It's Football Manager 2021 release day, which means partners of fans of the addictive simulation sensation may not see much of their significant others for the foreseeable future.

A game with roots dating back to the early 90s, Football Manager has become a phenomenon with players enamoured by the challenge of signing wonderkids from South America or leading a team from non-league to Champions League glory.

Yes, Football Manager has developed a cult following and a legion of devoted followers to a franchise that simply seems to grow year on year.

Indeed, many footballers have become famous in their own right not necessarily for their performances on the pitch but for their rise to prominence from boy wonder to global superstar in the world of Football Manager.

So, to help celebrate the full release of the latest instalment, we have taken a look at how some of the most iconic and infamous players of Football Manager fared in the real world…

 

CHERNO SAMBA

Had Cherno Samba managed to replicate the simulated predictions in real life, perhaps we would have been speaking about him in the same breath as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo (hey, we said perhaps!). A prodigious 16-year-old on the books at Millwall on the Championship Manager 2001-02 game, Samba was the man to spearhead a plethora of gamers to global domination. Things didn't quite pan out the same in real life as the former England youth international took in spells in Spain, Greece, Finland and Norway before retiring in 2015. Samba scored on his English Football League debut for Plymouth Argyle against Coventry City in August 2006 but failed to net in any of his following 15 league appearances in England.

FREDDY ADU

Freddy Adu's is a genuine "what if?" story. The teenager was the man to sign on Championship Manager 4 and was tipped for superstardom after making his professional debut as a 14-year-old with DC United in April 2004, scoring his first professional goal later that month. Adu had a trial with Manchester United but unfortunately never lived up to such high billing, with spells at Benfica and Monaco among a host of clubs he turned out for. In October, Adu announced he had signed for third-tier Swedish side Osterlen - his 15th professional club - after a two-year break from the game.

KENNEDY BAKIRCIOGLU

A player whose talent forced a positional rethink for David Beckham at Manchester United and was enough to displace Ronaldinho from his favoured No.10 position…on his own Championship Manager saves! On the face of it, Kennedy Bakircioglu's stats were solid if unspectacular (18 for technique, though…) but the attacking midfielder – part of a generation of Swedish talent with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kim Kallstrom – was unplayable at times in the simulated world. In reality, Bakircioglu failed to impress on trial with the Red Devils and he had a somewhat nomadic career with spells at the likes of Twente, Ajax and Racing Santander on his resume before retiring back in Sweden with Hammarby a couple of years back.

TONTON ZOLA MOUKOKO 

A man whose name even to this day is revered by fans of the game. A special attacking midfield talent available for a pittance from Derby County, Moukoko was regularly sought out by players. In real life, Milan were apparently interested in the teenager but sadly personal tragedy struck. Moukoko moved to Sweden with his brother as a child but the death of his sibling left him out of love with football at 18. Moukoko would return to Sweden and also had a spell in Finland.

KERLON

True disciples of the Football Manager series will know full well that South America is a hotbed of wonderkid talent. Cruzeiro's Kerlon was one such player on the 2005 game and life looked like imitating art when Serie A giants Inter brought the master of the famed 'seal dribble' to Italy. However, Kerlon's trademark trick – where he would flick the ball into the air and run with it bouncing on his head – never got an airing in the famous Nerazzurri jersey. He failed to make an appearance for Inter, and a host of loans – including one to Ajax where game time similarly didn't arrive – were unable to spark his career. Kerlon went on to play in Japan, the United States, Malta and Slovakia in a journeyman career before retiring in 2017.

IBRAHIMA BAKAYOKO

One for the real old guard here, Ibrahima Bakayoko's all-round attributes and clinical finishing meant he was a Championship Manager cert in 97-98 – although a tendency for injuries and a high fee (£5million, no less!!) were potential stumbling blocks. However, away from the simulated world, Bakayoko earned the very harsh nickname "Baka-joke-o" during a spell at Everton that returned just four goals in 23 games having signed from Montpellier. He was the first Ivorian to score a Premier League goal, doing so against Southampton in 1998, but the following season he was back in France playing for Marseille and he would represent 13 clubs in total.

ANTHONY VANDEN BORRE

If you played Football Manager in the middle-to-late noughties, then at some point or another you will have signed Anthony Vanden Borre, a wonderkid across several instalments who could be signed for a nominal fee from Anderlecht. Nowadays, of course, Vanden Borre is arguably best known for Chris Kamara's famous "has he?" gaffe on Sky Sports when informed by Jeff Stelling that the defender had been sent off while playing for Portsmouth in a game 'Kammy' was supposed to be watching. A decent career that has included 28 Belgium caps continued when his former team-mate Vincent Kompany took him back to Anderlecht for a third spell after three years without a team, though largely to work with the club's younger players.

CARLOS VELA

Still a wonderkid on Football Manager in 2009, two years on from being acclaimed as one of the most exciting teenagers in the world by World Soccer. The Mexico talent showed flashes of brilliance when he made the breakthrough at Arsenal, but consistency was lacking. After several loan spells away from the club, Vela finally found a permanent home at the last of those in Real Sociedad, where he spent a further six seasons. In 2018, Vela moved to MLS with Los Angeles FC. He has been involved in 77 goals in just 69 MLS appearances (54 goals, 23 assists).

YAYA SANOGO

Another player who Gunners fans will attest to the fact that his virtual prowess was not matched at the Emirates. His supposedly deadly finishing made him a must-buy on Football Manager 2011 but a move to Arsenal from Auxerre in 2013 brought little joy. In English football, he netted just two goals in 31 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal and Crystal Palace combined, only to score a hat-trick on his first ever start for Charlton Athletic (his third overall). However, these were the only goals he got for the Addicks. He is without a club after being released by Toulouse in July.

IGOR AKINFEEV

A debut at 16 and a treble with CSKA Moscow before the age of 20, it doesn't take a genius to work out why the statisticians at Football Manager had such high hopes for Akinfeev – one of the all-time simulation greats. A couple of serious injuries and a high-profile error for Russia against South Korea in the 2014 World Cup meant that Akinfeev never quite delivered on the early promise. Indeed, after keeping six clean sheets in his first 10 Champions League appearances, Akinfeev then conceded at least once in each of his following 43 games in the competition. Still, he is a legend at CSKA and has over 100 caps for Russia.

In an alternate universe unaffected by coronavirus, Atletico Madrid's hosting of Barcelona on Saturday would have been all about Luis Suarez – his first match against his former club and Lionel Messi, hoping to create further distance between the two sides in the table.

But with the Uruguayan's positive test for COVID-19 ruling him out of an early reunion, all eyes were to be on Joao Felix, the undisputed star of this Atletico team that once again appears capable of a title challenge.

Seemingly now accustomed to the pressure that accompanied his big-money move from Benfica, and excelling in a slightly altered role to that he often occupied last term, Joao Felix had been identified as the key man for Atletico heading into the fixture.

If Atletico were to walk away with a potentially vital win, Joao Felix would surely be at the fore.

But while the Portugal star was his usual tidy self in the slender 1-0 victory, it was someone a little less flashy, perhaps even usually unheralded, who gave Atletico their direction and purpose on an eerie evening at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Koke's role was arguably going to be more important than ever – Atletico were unable to call upon either Lucas Torreira or Hector Herrera, meaning that whatever central pairing the captain was going to be a part of was going to be lacking a little steel.

But the Spain international, whose recent form earned him a recall after a lengthy Roja absence, found the space he needed to orchestrate, while he did some of the dirty work as well.

In the first half, Atletico played the much more entertaining football, working it nicely between themselves in triangles around the Barca midfield – Koke was central to many of their finest moves, his link-up play with Joao Felix and Angel Correa in the final third routinely easy on the eye.

Koke appears to have rediscovered his best form again this term and his influence on Atleti was clear throughout here.

His 72 attempted passes were 14 more than anyone else in an Atletico jersey, while he completed 93 per cent of them.

Furthermore, his accuracy actually increased slightly when in the opposing half, where 45 of them were plotted.

There was substance to his distribution as well.

He laid on two key passes, bettered by only Correa (three) in the Atletico side, yet the creative burden would usually be expected to be on the likes of Joao Felix, Marcos Llorente, Yannick Carrasco and Saul Niguez ahead of him.

Koke's 88 touches were unrivalled by anyone else in Rojiblanco, evidence that so much went through him, while off the ball he contributed with a team-high two interceptions, one tackle, one clearance and six recoveries – Carrasco (seven), the scorer of the decisive goal, was the only Atletico player to gain possession more often.

In recent seasons, although he remained prominent in a general sense for Atletico, the wider football community's perception of Koke had suffered – he was even subjected to jeers from home fans a little over a year ago.

At that point, his career appeared to have stalled badly at Atletico. His performances were becoming increasingly ineffective and it was beginning to rub off on supporters.

Simeone remained a believer, putting such actions down to the reactionary nature of football fandom – after all, only six midfielders have had more touches and attempted passes than Koke in LaLiga this term.

This resurgence is coinciding with Atletico undergoing their biggest shift in many years, both in terms of their less pragmatic style of play and, now, key results as well.

Prior to Saturday, Atletico had failed to win their previous 20 LaLiga games against Barca, while Simeone had not ever beaten them in the league – that equates to 17 matches.

But with captain Koke plotting their route through such uncharted waters, leading with rediscovered vigour and panache, it seems unlikely that even a landmark win over Barca will be the high point of 2020-21 for a re-energised Atletico.

*PUT BACK ON DRAFT - WAIT FOR SUAREZ ABSENCE CONFIRMATION*

 

As recently as January, Joao Felix's Atletico Madrid career appeared to be on a rocky road to nowhere – the previously much-vaunted 'Golden Boy', the club's most expensive signing ever, appeared to be at a loss.

Another big game had passed him by in the shape of the Supercopa final against Real Madrid, who emerged victors on penalties after a 0-0 draw – one Los Blancos dominated.

Even greater burden had been placed on him from late 2019, with Diego Costa ruled out long-term due to a neck injury, but Joao Felix simply couldn't meet expectations.

His struggles understandably led to much debate about the cause; was he finding it difficult to settle in? Was he actually the talent everyone thought he was? Or, as most people seemingly thought, was he just not cut out for Cholismo?

Media reports at the time suggested his team-mates believed Joao Felix was having problems settling in Madrid, but once football resumed after the coronavirus-enforced lockdown, encouraging signs were beginning to show.

And now, as Atletico prepare to host Barca and Lionel Messi on Saturday, few would consider anyone other than Joao Felix to be LaLiga's outstanding player in 2020-21.

Space? You can get lost in space

Joao Felix's arrival at the Wanda Metropolitano was met by the clamouring of Diego Simeone critics suggesting this was the signing that would finally see the renowned pragmatist cut loose and suddenly become the entertainer many hoped he could be.

It didn't work out that way. In fact, their haul of 51 LaLiga goals was the lowest they'd managed since scoring just 46 in 2006-07 – they somehow became even duller to watch.

This didn't do much to convince those adamant Simeone was to blame for Joao Felix's form – many people called for the young talent to be given a "free role" that allowed him to play without the shackles normally associated with the coach's rigid and disciplined system.

Yet, as average touch location maps show, Joao Felix generally operated largely in a less disciplined role last season than he has in 2020-21 – in 2019-20, he occupied spaces through the middle and on the left flank more than most, yet his time in the four zones within that area between the halfway line and penalty area were split fairly evenly.

 

This season, however, 22 per cent of his ball touches have been in a withdrawn area on the left flank, and 19 per cent in the next zone up the same wing. His role is demonstrably more structured yet he is proving far more effective as he wanders less, and this is evident almost across the board.

His tally of five LaLiga goals is second only to Mikel Oyarzabal and, at rate of 0.9 goals per 90 minutes, his frequency in that regard has trebled. His rate of 0.4 assists per 90 minutes is four times higher than the 0.1 for last term.

Joao Felix is now averaging 2.2 key passes every game (up from 0.8), while his records for passes, touches, open-play sequence involvement and goal-ending sequence involvement have all increased massively this season.

 

Suarez makes great players even better

Whether this clear change in role has been engineered by Simeone or Joao Felix himself is difficult to know without one of them claiming as much. Certainly, the Atletico coach has not alluded to such an alteration.

No, Simeone has instead highlighted the impact of signing of Luis Suarez from Sunday's opponents, saying earlier this month: "I believe that all this is generated from the presence of Suarez. With the likes of [Diego] Costa and [Alvaro] Morata before him, they had a lot of other characteristics, but we have been looking for other qualities.

"Luis has needed more people close to him, close to where he can hurt the opposition, and that is the team's goal."

Let's not forget, Suarez has spent years alongside the very best in the business in Lionel Messi, and the pair developed an almost telepathic understanding – as good as the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is, that doesn't happen just because of him.

Suarez is an assassin in attack, boasting off the ball intelligence like few other strikers have in the past 30 years – even if he's not as quick as he once was, the Uruguayan knows what runs to make, and when to make them.

For example, Joao Felix has created four chances for Suarez this season – that's already tied with the highest amount of key passes he played for a single team-mate in 2019-20 (Angel Correa), and one more than he laid on for Morata.

But herein lies a new test for Joao Felix.

Sunday is Atletico's first matchup with either of the 'big two' in LaLiga this term, but they will not be able to look to the finishing abilities of Suarez due to his coronavirus diagnosis.

 

Therefore, even greater onus will be on Joao Felix to provide the spark in attack for Atletico, potentially both as a creator and a finisher - thankfully for him, his positive xG differential of 2.4 suggests he has that capability.

Whether he inspires Atletico to a win or not, the fact such a possibility is even being considered less than a year on from him appearing utterly at odds with the club is a major triumph for Joao Felix.

At long last, one of the world's most promising young footballers is eligible to make his professional bow, as Borussia Dortmund prodigy Youssoufa Moukoko turned 16 on Friday.

The Germany Under-20 international has long given Dortmund coaches, players and fans cause for excitement, with his accomplishments in the club's academy over the past few years attracting widespread attention.

He made history on the European stage a little over a year ago in October 2019 when, still just 14, became the youngest ever goalscorer in the UEFA Youth League – the previous record-holders had been well over a year older when they netted their first goals.

The previous season Moukoko had scored 50 goals and earned his promotion to Dortmund's Under-19s, and he took to that level with similar comfort, setting a new record as he scored 34 goals from just 20 games in the Bundesliga's youth division.

And such form has continued into the 2020-21 campaign with a remarkable haul of 10 goals in just three league matches.

Finally, his shot at the big time appears to be here.

A long time coming 


But why has it seemingly taken so long for Moukoko to be introduced to first-team football? After all, former Dortmund star Nuri Sahin, the current record-holder as the Bundesliga's youngest-ever player, believes the youngster is wasting his time in the Under-19s.

Sahin told Kicker: "Youssoufa must now take the next step - the Under-19s is too easy for him."

Well, quite, but German Football League (DFL) regulations have long been rather strict regarding the minimum age of its players.

Generally, before this season, players have had to be 17 years old in order to get a DFL gaming license – the absolute earliest they could make their professional debut until 2020-21 was 16 years and six months.

However, that was altered in April to allow players to become eligible at the age of 16, bringing the Bundesliga in line with many of Europe's other major leagues.

Therefore, with Moukoko's 16th birthday on Friday, there is the very real possibility of the teenager being involved in a Bundesliga match for the first time this weekend as Dortmund go to Hertha Berlin on Saturday.

While undoubtedly a step up, Dortmund have worked to ensure Moukoko doesn't suffer too much of a shock to his system, with sporting director Michael Zorc revealing in June that the youngster was to be integrated with the first-team squad "immediately" so he could be used in the top flight from his 16th birthday.

His time has come.

Historic feats within reach

Given Moukoko will be the first player to benefit from this rule alteration and his debut could come literally a day after he becomes eligible, there are several records waiting to be smashed.

As previously mentioned, Sahin holds both the club and Bundesliga record for the youngest debutant having been 16 years, 11 months and one day old.

The only other player to feature in the Bundesliga before turning 17 was Yann Bisseck (16 years, 11 months and 28 days) for Cologne in November 2017, though unfortunately he was unable to sustain that breakthrough and has spent most of his time since out on loan.

There are three other Dortmund players in the top 10 youngest Bundesliga debutants – Ibrahim Tanko (17y, 1m, 30d) in September 1994 and current first-team talents Giovanni Reyna (17y, 2m, 5d) and Jude Bellingham (17y, 2m, 21d) in January and September this year, respectively.

Sahin (17y, 2m, 21d) had also held the record for the Bundesliga's youngest goalscorer until Bayer Leverkusen's gifted winger Florian Wirtz (17y, 1m, 3d) came along and snatched it away in June this year.

Nevertheless, that too looks set to be smashed by Moukoko assuming he makes a bright start to his Bundesliga career, and given the ease at which he has taken to pretty much every other challenge until now, few would bet against him.

Erling Haaland recently suggested Moukoko is even better than he was at the same age – a scary thought if you are a defender employed in the Bundesliga.

They have been warned.

November 2, 2016 was a night many Chicago Cubs fans never thought they would see.

After generations of fans witnessed their beloved Cubs come up short, the 2016 team ended the franchise's 108-year title drought by capturing the World Series.

The events that transpired that night in Cleveland – as well as the raucous celebrations taking place 350 miles to the west in Chicago – were set in motion five years earlier when the Cubs named Theo Epstein the team's president of baseball operations in October 2011. And just over four years after the Cubs hoisted the championship trophy, Epstein determined that his time with the franchise had come to an end, announcing Tuesday he would be stepping down from his position.

His contract was set to expire at the end of the 2021 season, and he was then expected to move on with general manager Jed Hoyer filling his position. Over the last few months, however, Epstein decided that since the franchise is facing several big personnel questions this offseason that will shape the future of the team, and that the one making the decisions should be around for the long haul, so Hoyer will take over now.

Epstein will forever be remembered in the Cubs' storied history – as well as the Boston Red Sox's – for delivering a championship to a long-suffering fan base. Though a Cubs dynasty never materialised like some fans envisioned after the 2016 title, Epstein successfully transformed a team known as the loveable losers into perennial contenders.

"The best part of this journey with the Cubs has been the feeling of togetherness: the friendships, trust, camaraderie, and collaboration inside the organisation as well as the deep connection with the fans," Epstein wrote in a letter to Cubs fans.

"Nine years ago, after I laid out some lofty goals at my introductory press conference — a pledge to create a foundation for sustained success that would mean playing baseball regularly in October as well as a promise, over time and together, to build a team that would ultimately win the World Series — our first act as a baseball department was to set out a collective vision for how we could meet those goals and make our fans proud."

Building a contender began with "The Plan".

Epstein had no intention in competing immediately, his vision was a complete tear down to rebuild with high draft picks of position players, develop those picks into a core of the team and acquire pitchers.

As far as being bad in those first few years under Epstein's watch, the Cubs excelled.

In his first three seasons at the helm, the Cubs had the league's second-worst winning percentage at .412. Chicago's poor play, however, led to high draft picks, and Epstein and the Cubs drafted Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ with top-10 picks from 2012-15.

Over that same span, the Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, and prior to the start of the 2015 season, they signed free agent Jon Lester. Also before the 2015 season, they landed highly coveted manager Joe Maddon.

With the core in place, the Cubs went from 73 wins in 2014 to 97 victories in 2015 and a berth in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) – their first since 2003. Over the last six seasons, their 505 wins are the third most in baseball behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (528) and Houston Astros (510).

Excluding the 2020 season because of the truncated 60-game schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic, the five-year stretch from 2015-19 was also one of the best in franchise history – the 471 wins only behind the 530 between 1906 and 1910.

Four straight 90-win seasons from 2015-18, helped the Cubs pile up many of those victories. Since 2015, only the Dodgers have more 90-win seasons.

What makes the Cubs' recent success even more incredible is that it followed a particularly forgettable four-decade stretch. Chicago had the fewest seasons with 90-plus wins between 1970 and 2014 with four, only the Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies (both two) fared worse.

With the exception of the Cubs, every other team on the list – including the San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays – started in the division era, and the two clubs with fewer 90-win seasons than the Cubs did not even begin play until 1993. So, Chicago had 23 more opportunities than the Rockies and Marlins to reach 90 wins in a season, 28 more seasons than the Diamondbacks and Rays (both started in 1998) and seven more than the Mariners and Blue Jays (both started in 1977). The Padres first season was in 1969.

Chicago's turnaround was a result of Epstein's moves and the team's player development. Bryant would go on to win the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Award, while Arrieta took home that year's NL Cy Young Award. A year later, Bryant earned NL MVP honours, Lester finished second in 2016 NL Cy Young voting while Hendricks finished third.

While Arrieta signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after 2017 and Epstein inked Yu Darvish prior to 2018, the tandem of Lester and Hendricks has been one of the most reliable in the majors over the past six seasons.

Since 2015, the Cubs' pitching staff has posted the majors' third-best ERA at 3.66, while Lester (77 wins), Hendricks (62) and Arrieta (54) are also one of just two trios to have at least 50 wins for one team - along with the Cleveland Indians' Carlos Carrasco (69), Corey Kluber (67) and Trevor Bauer (61).

With Hendricks, Lester and 2020 NL Cy Young runner-up Darvish heading the rotation, the offense has compiled the majors' second-highest on-base percentage since 2015 at .332 behind a familiar line-up.

Rizzo and Bryant have each made three All-Star teams, while shortstop Javier Baez – the Cubs' first-round pick from the year before Epstein took over in 2011 – has earned two trips to the Midsummer Classic. Those three stars along with Schwarber have provided consistent home-run power only two other teams can match over the past six seasons – the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros with four players with 100 or more homers since 2015.

The Cubs have had an incredible run since 2015, reaching the postseason five times – one of four teams with at least five playoff berths in the last six seasons, along with the Dodgers, Astros and New York Yankees. Not every move Epstein has made worked to perfection like signing Craig Kimbrel or trading Eloy Jimenez for Jose Quintana. And the team have not won a playoff game since 2017 with their offense inconceivably scoring two, one, one, three, one, one, one and 0 runs in their last eight postseason games, but the last six years overall will still be considered one of the best stretches in Cubs history.

''If you look at my track record in Boston and then here, in the first six years or so, we did some pretty epic things,'' Epstein said Tuesday. ''And then the last couple years weren't as impressive. Maybe what that tells me is I think I'm great at and really enjoy building and transformation and triumphing. Maybe I'm not as good and not as motivated by maintenance.''

Epstein is not sure what the future will bring, but will take the next year off of baseball. At least, working at the ballpark. He did say he plans to buy season tickets for the Cubs to enjoy the game as a fan.

"Getting dropped into this situation nine years ago, feeling like a stranger, Chicago, the Cubs, Cubs fans all being foreign to me," Epstein said. "And now I look, nine years later, and I feel like it's in my blood too. I don't think that would’ve been possible elsewhere. The closeness of the connection with the fans as you go through the Cubs experience, that stands out to me."

Kyler Murray's remarkable rise continued in Week 10 of the NFL season as the Arizona Cardinals quarterback authored an unbelievable finish in their win over the Buffalo Bills. 

The diminutive quarterback, who eschewed a baseball career to head to the NFL, produced an astonishing last-gasp throw to DeAndre Hopkins, who rose above several defenders to pluck the ball out of the air and give Arizona a victory that moves them to 6-3. 

Murray's performance was a historically significant one as he once again thrived throwing and running the football. 

The dual-threat superstar unsurprisingly leads our look at some of the best statistics from a wild Sunday as the fight for the postseason heats up.

Hail Murray 

Murray produced arguably the play of the NFL season so far with his incredible game-winning Hail Mary pass to Hopkins against the Bills to give the Cardinals the division lead in the NFC West. 

Almost as impressive as that throw are Murray's continued exploits running the football. He rushed for two touchdowns in the defeat of Buffalo, becoming the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era - and first since 1956 - to run for a touchdown in five consecutive games. 

His 10 rushing touchdowns put him tied with Johnny Lujack for the most by a quarterback in his team's first nine games of a season in NFL history. 

With 6,097 passing yards and 1,148 rushing yards in his career, Murray has joined Cam Newton as only the second quarterback to pass for at least 6,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the first 25 games of his career. 

Next for Murray and the Cardinals is a trip to Seattle to face the Seahawks on Thursday. Arizona can take command of the division with a win at CenturyLink Field and, after another two-interception display from Russell Wilson in Week 10, it is Murray who looks a better bet to contend for the MVP award than the man previously considered the frontrunner.

Adams on pace with receiving greats

Davante Adams' decisive grab against the Jacksonville Jaguars may not receive the acclaim of Hopkins' remarkable catch, but it was no less important as the Green Bay Packers claimed an unconvincing win to move to 7-2. 

His stunning spinning reception was Adams' ninth touchdown catch of the season. With 61 catches for 741 yards, he joins Marvin Harrison (1999) and Randy Moss (2007) as the only players with at least 700 receiving yards and nine scores in their first seven games of an NFL season. 

Those numbers are why many consider Adams the top wide receiver in the NFL. Averaging 105.9 yards per game, Adams is on pace for his finest season yet and his reputation will only be enhanced if he can deliver another influential performance against one of the league's toughest defenses when the Packers visit the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11.

NFC South running backs show their worth

The New Orleans Saints overcame a 10-point deficit to beat the depleted San Francisco 49ers thanks to three touchdowns from running back Alvin Kamara. 

Kamara ran for two scores and added another as a receiver, meaning he now has 17 career games with at least two touchdowns, tying him with Chuck Foreman for the second-most in his first four seasons in NFL history. Larry Johnson (18 games) is the only player to have more. 

His prolific day also saw Kamara move level with Foreman in another category, as he recorded his eighth career game with both a rushing and a receiving touchdown. Christian McCaffrey (nine) holds the record for the most by a player in his first four seasons in league history. 

With Drew Brees suffering a rib injury that kept him out of the second half, Kamara may have to take on an even larger role if the Saints have to switch to a backup quarterback, with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill both ineffective in Brees' absence.

Another NFC South running back, Ronald Jones of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, demonstrated his value with an incredible 98-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of their clash with the Carolina Panthers.

It gave the Bucs a nine-point cushion in what had until then been a tight game, with Tampa going on to ease to a 46-23 win. 

Jones' score made him the fourth player in NFL history to record a rushing touchdown of at least 98 yards, following in the footsteps of Tony Dorsett (99 yards in Week 17, 1982), Ahman Green (98 yards in Week 17, 2003) and Derrick Henry (99 yards in Week 14, 2018).

If Jones can deliver more game-breaking plays down the stretch, it will help diversify a Buccaneers offense loaded with weapons in the passing game as Tom Brady and company look to become the first team to play in the Super Bowl at their home stadium.

Harry Kane will captain England in his 50th international appearance after being named in the starting line-up to face Belgium in the Nations League.

The Tottenham striker was an unused substitute in Thursday's 3-0 friendly win over the Republic of Ireland at Wembley.

But the prolific Kane will start for England and reach the milestone in Leuven on Sunday evening.

Kane will be supported by Jack Grealish and Mason Mount in attack as England look to repeat last month's 2-1 home win over Belgium.

How does Kane rank in England history?

In-form frontman Kane is the 62nd player to reach a half-century of caps for England.

He has scored 32 international goals in 49 appearances, with Jimmy Greaves (43) the only player to have scored more in his first 50 outings for the country.

Kane is the first outfield player to win his first 50 caps while playing for the same club since Chelsea great John Terry did so. He also becomes the first player to win 50 England caps while at Tottenham, passing Jermain Defoe, who won 49 caps as a Spurs player.

This is the 28th time Kane has captained his country, with only Billy Wright (33) and Bobby Moore (31) doing so more times inside 50 games.

The 27-year-old does fall short of the youngest players to reach 50 caps, with Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen both only 23 at the time they had reached that tally, with Raheem Sterling next quickest having been 24.

This will be Kane's 33rd appearance since Gareth Southgate took charge of England. The only player to have been used more often by Southgate is Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford (37).

Spurs flying high

His international recognition comes amid a magnificent start to the season for Spurs, who are just one point off the top in the Premier League.

In 14 appearances across all competitions so far in the 2020-21 campaign, Kane has racked up 13 goals and an astonishing 10 assists.

He has created 22 chances, 18 of which have come in the Premier League. Only four players have a bigger tally, with Liverpool star Mohamed Salah top on 21 in the top flight.

Kane's creative streak has come as part of a flourishing partnership with Son Heung-min. The two attackers have already equalled a record for the amount of goals two Spurs players have combined for in a single Premier League season (nine).

The England skipper's winner against Burnley at the end of October, which was set up by Son, took them on to 29 goal combinations in Premier League history, second only to Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard at Chelsea.

At this time a year ago, most NBA teams were right around the 10-game mark.

The Los Angeles Lakers, who would capture the season's delayed championship a mere 11 months later, sat atop the Western Conference at 8-2, while defending conference champions and injury-ravaged Golden State Warriors were tied with the lowly New York Knicks for the league's worst record at 2-9.

Fast-forward a year, and the NBA is in the midst of an offseason, albeit a brief one. The 2019-20 season ended on October 11, and just this week the NBA made it official that the 2020-21 campaign will tip off on December 22.

The draft had been scheduled for October 16 before being pushed back to next Wednesday, when it will take place virtually from the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

The draft order was set back on August 20, when the league conducted its lottery at the NBA office in Secaucus, New Jersey, revealing the Minnesota Timberwolves have the top selection and the Boston Celtics have the last lottery pick – courtesy of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Most of these teams have not played a game since mid-March, so in case you have forgotten about how the league's also-rans fared – or tried to forget if you are a Knicks fan – here is a little breakdown of some notable stats from the teams with lottery picks.

 

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

For the second time in franchise history the Timberwolves have the top overall pick. The only other time they picked first was in 2015, when they selected Karl-Anthony Towns out of Kentucky. Towns led the Timberwolves last season with 26.5 points per game, while D'Angelo Russell averaged 21.7 and Malik Beasley averaged 20.7. The Timberwolves and the Celtics were the only two teams last season to have three players average 20 or points (minimum 12 games played). Minnesota could have possibly had more 20-point players if they could have made a higher rate of their shots. Minnesota were third in the league in three-point attempts per game (39.7) but were the NBA's third-worst team in three-point shooting at 33.6 per cent to become just the third team in league history to rank in the top three in three-point attempts per game and third worst in three-point percentage, joining the 1999-2000 Sacramento Kings and 2003-04 New Orleans Hornets. While the offense struggled, Minnesota's defense were abysmal, allowing at least 100 points in each of their final 30 games. After the All-Star break, the Timberwolves' opponents' scoring average of 125.3 points and opponents' shooting percentage of 51.7 percent both ranked last in the league. Winning the lottery and picking first is usually a blessing, but without a clear-cut number one in this draft, Minnesota have some decisions to make with how they plan to bolster their roster.

2. Golden State Warriors

A year ago, the Warriors were picking 28th and now they are second. Times have certainly changed, but you would have probably noticed that already. Given the Warriors were without Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for essentially the entire season, it is no big surprise Golden State's winning percentage from 2018-19 to 2019-20 dropped by .464 – the biggest decline by any team from one season to the next since the Cleveland Cavaliers' drop in winning percentage of .512 from 2009-10 to 2010-11. Offensively, Golden State finished last in the NBA in effective field goal shooting at 49.7 per cent - (FGM plus 0.5 three points made)/FGA – and last in points scored per 100 possessions at 102.9. Eric Paschall led the depleted Warriors in scoring with 837 points – the lowest by any team leader in 2019-20. As Golden State's scoring leader, Paschall became the first Warrior rookie to lead the team in scoring since Hall of Famer Rick Barry in 1965-66. With Curry and Thompson healthy, the offense will have an entirely different look for 2020-21 and get Golden State back among the upper echelon of teams. The Warriors now seem to be targeting Memphis big man James Wiseman to upgrade a defense that allowed 110.9 points per 100 possessions – tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the fifth worst in the NBA.

3. Charlotte Hornets

After a lacklustre offensive showing in 2019-20, the Hornets are picking third for the first time since taking Gonzaga's Adam Morrison in 2006. While the NBA scoring average was at 111.8 points per game, Charlotte averaged a league-low 102.9 points and shot a league-worst 43.4 per cent – the first team since the 2015-16 Lakers to finish last in both categories. They shot a league-worst 33.4 per cent on pull-up shots and even right at the rim they struggled to convert, recording a league-worst 56.6 per cent on dunks and layups. In their 65 games played last season, they were outshot in 48 of them – the most in the league. You get the picture, the Hornets need to improve their shooting.

4. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls are the only team to rank in the bottom five in scoring each of the last three seasons. They concluded the 2019-20 campaign with the NBA's fourth-worst scoring offense at 106.8 points per game and the fourth-worst offensive rating at 104.1 points per 100 possessions. They were the fifth-worst shooting team on catch and shoots at 35.7 per cent and sixth worst at converting dunks and layups at 58.4 percent. Not only were the Bulls not much of threat offensively, they were a mess on the glass, averaging the second-fewest rebounds in the NBA at 41.9 per game – the franchise's fewest since averaging 40.0 in 2001-02. Upgrading the offense with a proven shooter could be the way new executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas leans.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

Defense was somewhat optional for the Cavaliers last season, and they essentially opted not to play it, ranking last in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions at 113.6. Since the advent of the three-point line in 1979-80, their opponents' effective field goal percentage of 56.0 was the second worst by any team in a season beating out only the 2018-19 Cavs' 56.4. Their offensive production was not much better, with their 104.4 points per 100 possessions ranking sixth worst in the NBA. Carelessness played a part in Cleveland's inefficient offense with their 16.5 turnovers per game ranking last in the league – the first time since 1997-98 they finished last in turnovers per game. The Cavs enter this draft with plenty of needs on both sides of the ball.

6. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks had glaring issues both offensively and defensively last season, posting the fifth-worst offensive rating at 104.3 points per 100 possessions, along with the third-worst defensive rating at 112.3 opponents' points per 100 possessions. Their defense was especially shoddy down the stretch, permitting a league-worst 124.3 points per game since February 1. Their offensive woes, meanwhile, stemmed from poor perimeter shooting, as they ranked last in the league in three-point shooting at 33.3 per cent – the first time since 2006-07 they had the NBA's worst three-point percentage. Finding someone to compliment Trae Young would go a long way in boosting the offense. Young averaged a team-high 29.6 points while the Hawks' second-leading scorer, De'Andre Hunter, averaged 12.3 points. That difference of 17.3 points per game was the largest gap in the NBA between a team's leading scorer and its second-leading scorer.

7. Detroit Pistons

Perhaps the biggest issue for the Pistons last season was that the oft-injured Derrick Rose led the team in scoring – not exactly the ideal player a team want to build around given his age and inability to stay healthy. Rose's average of 18.1 points per game was the second lowest for a team leader in 2019-20, and the Pistons had a 30-point scorer in just seven games – tied with the Miami Heat for the fewest 30-point games by a player last season. Detroit's offense was never flashy, averaging the fifth-fewest fast-break points per game at 11.0, and then it really shrivelled down the stretch, averaging a league-worst 103.7 points per 100 possessions after the end of January. Selecting a playmaker that can jump-start the offense should be Detroit's prime goal come draft night.

8. New York Knicks

Offense was not New York's strong suit last season. The Knicks had the league's worst true shooting percentage at 53.1 per cent and second-worst effective field goal percentage at 50.1. Not to be outdone, they also had the league's second-worst offensive rating at 103.8 points per 100 possessions. Behind power forward Julius Randle, the Knicks found success in scoring inside, scoring 46.9 percent of their points on dunks and layups – the seventh-highest rate in the NBA – but had the league's fourth-worst three-point percentage at 33.7. Upgrading at the point guard position, preferably with one who can score, is the troubled team's top priority.

9. Washington Wizards

Defense – or lack thereof – was the downfall of the 2019-20 Wizards, who surrendered 125 or more points in an NBA-worst 26 games. Washington were last in the NBA in opponents' true shooting percentage at 59.6 and had the league's second-worst defensive rating, allowing 112.7 points per 100 possessions. The team also had no answer on the boards, as they were outrebounded in an NBA-worst 50 games. Bradley Beal, meanwhile, carried the offense, leading the team in scoring in 46 games last season – two fewer than Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks outright in scoring for the most in the NBA. Led by Beal, the Wizards reached the 115-point mark in 34 games – eighth most in the NBA - but their .500 winning percentage (17-17) in games scoring 115 points or more was tied with the Timberwolves (15-15) and Warriors (8-8) for the worst in the league. The all-out offensive attack does not seem to be working for the Wizards, so a defensive stopper may be the answer.

10. Phoenix Suns

The Suns were all business on their summer trip to "The Most Magical Place on Earth," but still missed the playoffs for a 10th straight season – the second-longest active playoff drought behind the Sacramento Kings at 14. Phoenix are seemingly a playoff-calibre team, at least it looked that way at Walt Disney World Resort, where they won all eight of their games in the restart to become the first team in NBA history to end the regular season on an eight-game winning streak and still miss the playoffs. The Suns averaged 122.3 points and shot 40.2 per cent from three-point range in Orlando after averaging 112.6 points while shooting 35.3 per cent from beyond the arc before the season went on pause. Prior to the restart, the Suns were tied with the Cavs for 20th in the NBA in three-pointers made per game at 11.2, so adding a wing that can connect from long range would help. What would also help would be capturing that magic the team displayed inside the Orlando bubble and playing with that intensity from the get-go instead of waiting until the last two weeks.

11. San Antonio Spurs

With the 11th pick of the draft, the Spurs have a lottery pick for the first time since drafting Tim Duncan first overall in 1997. That is what happens when the team misses the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. San Antonio had some success offensively last season, ranking fourth in three-point shooting at 37.6 per cent. The problem was only the Knicks attempted fewer three-pointers, so Gregg Popovich was not buying into the chuck up three-pointer offense. The offense, however, neglected to force the ball inside, attempting a league-low 27.6 percent of their shots on dunks and layups. Instead, San Antonio attempted an NBA-high 70.4 per cent of their shots on jumpers. Popovich's defense also was not up to normal standard last season, allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions - tied with the Warriors for the fifth worst in the NBA. While the defense could be improved, upgrading the offense with a playmaker is paramount.

12. Sacramento Kings

The Kings may be owners of the longest active playoff drought at 14 years, but their trajectory is pointing in the right direction with an offense revolving around De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. Since the start of February, Sacramento ranked seventh in three-point shooting at 38.0 per cent and 10th in scoring at 115.6 points per game. The problems begin with their lack of size and athleticism in the interior. The Kings were the fourth-worst rebounding team, averaging 42.6 boards, and fourth worst in blocking shots, averaging 4.07. Opponents also shot 64.9 per cent within five feet of the rim – the second-highest field goal percentage in the league. Finding a rim protector could be the difference in the Kings reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

13. New Orleans Pelicans

Like the Kings, the Pelicans have a solid young core behind Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball and are on the precipice of becoming a playoff team. Last season, they ranked seventh in three-point shooting at 37.0 per cent, fifth in three-pointers made per game at 13.6 and fifth in scoring at 115.8 points per game. However, they also ranked 17th in offensive rating at 108.0 points per 100 possessions after ranking 29th in turnovers per game with an average of 16.4. Their defense also left something to be desired, especially in the restart, where their opponents' average of 113.4 points per 100 possessions was tied with the Brooklyn Nets for the fifth worst from the eight seeding games. The defense should see improvement under new coach Stan Van Gundy and drafting a big man that can step out to draw opposing defenses away from Williamson will make the offense more dangerous.

14. Boston Celtics

Eight weeks after playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics own a lottery pick via a trade with the Grizzlies from five years ago. Boston are the only team with three first-round picks, so for a team with a championship window wide open it seems unlikely they will keep all of them. The Celtics ranked second in three-point defense last season at 34.0 per cent and fourth in defensive rating at 104.5 points per 100 possessions. They were also tied with the Spurs for fifth in offensive rating at 110.4 points per 100 possessions and will bring back most of their roster, so they do not have a lot of big-time needs. More depth would certainly be welcome, however, after Boston's reserves accounted for just 25.0 percent of the team's total points – the third-lowest percentage of bench points in the NBA.

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

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

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

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

THE TIME HAS COME FOR XANDER – Dan Lewis

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

HATTON CAN COMPLETE JOURNEY FROM WANNABE TO SUPERSTAR – Jon Fisher

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

THIS IS DUSTIN'S YEAR AT AUGUSTA – Chris Myson

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

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

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

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

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

BEING UNDER THE RADAR MIGHT SUIT MCILROY – Timothy Abraham

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

While 2020 has been testing for most, Jude Bellingham will surely look back on it as the year that changed his life.

Having sealed a big-money move to Borussia Dortmund from Birmingham City in pre-season, he subsequently got himself straight into the first-team picture at Signal Iduna Park and has now been rewarded with a first call-up to England's senior side at the age of 17.

It caps a remarkable rise for the young midfielder, who was representing England's Under-16s as recently as April 2019.

His promotion from the Under-21s comes as a result of James Ward-Prowse pulling out of the squad due to injury, with Bellingham set to become the third-youngest England debutant of all-time behind Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott if he features in any of the Three Lions' three games this month.

But, while Bellingham's momentous call-up is a cause for celebration, it has posed questions for manager Gareth Southgate – namely, why not the more experienced options?

Too soon for Bellingham?

There is no doubt Bellingham has started brightly at Dortmund – after all, he has attempted more passes (292) than any other under-18 player in Europe's top five leagues this term, while his dribble success rate (58.3 per cent) is third among players in the same age bracket to have tried 10 or more.

Similarly, no other under-18 player can match his 12 tackles. He has fitted in well with Lucien Favre's high-pressing, attacking style and his adaptation is all the more impressive given his age.

But at the same time, it has been pointed out by Southgate's critics that Bellingham has made just four top-flight starts in his career – can a player truly show the required level of consistency across such a small sample size?

The counter to that argument is, this is by no means a new phenomenon. Raheem Sterling, Harry Winks and Dele Alli are just three of the players to have received senior England call-ups before starting five matches in one of Europe's top five leagues.

Nevertheless, Bellingham's call-up does – on the face of it – seem somewhat premature given there are comparable players of greater experience who have either been excelling recently or have impressed for England in the past.

Maddison and Barkley in the lurch

James Maddison and Ross Barkley appear to be seen as the two most hard done by in being ignored by Southgate.

Bellingham is certainly a more like-for-like replacement of Ward-Prowse than the aforementioned pair, but England have often looked short of creative ideas in the past few months – perhaps Barkley or Maddison would have been welcome additions in that sense.

After all, Barkley is averaging 2.9 chances created per 90 minutes for Aston Villa this term, compared to Bellingham's 1.6, a decrease one might expect for a player who usually occupies a pivot role.

Similarly, Barkley has been involved in three goals (two scored, one set up) to Bellingham's solitary assist, but the choice likely comes down to Southgate's trust – or lack thereof – in the Villa star or Maddison to effectively play a deep role.

While Maddison's distribution accuracy of 90 per cent may be an improvement on Bellingham's 86 per cent, the youngster is averaging many more passes per game (79 to 46). Likewise with Barkley, who plays 40 passes every 90 minutes with an accuracy of 83 per cent.

It also seems likely that Maddison is not helped by the fact he has made just two Premier League starts this term, though he was bright against Wolves at the weekend.

It is the sequence data that arguably gives us the greatest insight to Southgate's thinking with regards to this trio, however.

Southgate has a penchant for deep-lying midfielders who are tidy in possession, and Bellingham has been involved in 57 open-play passing sequences per 90 minutes this term, far more than Barkley (39) and Maddison (41).

He also starts such sequences (12 per game) more often than his rivals (11 for Barkley, 7 for Maddison), while 1.4 per 90 minutes end in a shot. This is also greater than the output of Barkley (0.9) and Maddison (0.7).

So, while Barkley and Maddison might offer more in the final third, Bellingham's role as a midfield pivot for Dortmund this term has seen him shine in terms of passing and recycling possession.

England fans may not like Southgate's apparent reliance on deep midfielders, but the fact he has chosen Bellingham to fill in for Ward-Prowse does make sense stylistically.

Gretzky-Kurri, Trottier-Bossy and Lemieux-Jagr are a few of the greatest tandems in NHL history. McDavid-Draisaitl and Crosby-Malkin, meanwhile, are two of the present day's top duos.

While the Buffalo Sabres' newly formed duo of Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall likely will not reach those lofty heights, they should provide some excitement and plenty of offense next season for a playoff-starved fan base.

No team currently have a longer streak without a playoff appearance than the Sabres, who haven't played beyond the regular season since 2010-2011. That nine-season drought is just one shy of the all-time mark (Panthers, 2000-01 to 2010-11; Oilers, 2006-07 to 2015-16).

There is a myriad of reasons for this futility and perhaps chief among them is a revolving door of coaches and general managers. Incumbent Ralph Krueger is Buffalo's sixth coach since the 2012-13 season and Buffalo have also had three general managers during that span, with Kevyn Adams taking over in June 2020.

There's no denying that the on-ice product also has been lacking, especially when it comes to putting the puck in the net. Inability to generate offense in the NHL of the past few seasons is a sure-fire recipe for failure.

Lowest team goals per game – since 2011-12

Sabres - 2.38 (a league-low 24.2 shots on goal per game)

Coyotes - 2.47

Devils - 2.47

Kings - 2.56

Red Wings - 2.59

After missing out on the opportunity to draft Connor McDavid in 2015, the Sabres selected Eichel at No. 2. While he hasn't approached the numbers that McDavid has registered with the Oilers, Eichel is a star in his own right and the best player Buffalo has seen since Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were the team's top forwards over a decade ago.

Most games leading team in points (including ties) – since 2015-16

Connor McDavid (Oilers) - 180

Patrick Kane (Blackhawks) - 174

Nikita Kucherov (Lightning) - 161

Jack Eichel (Sabres) - 151

Still, Eichel has been in desperate need of assistance for years and that's where Hall comes in. The best forward available in this year's free-agent market, Hall was the 2018 NHL MVP and has topped 20 goals six times since entering the league as the No. 1 pick in 2010.

Largest gap in points between team leader and second place – 2019-20

Avalanche - 43 (Nathan MacKinnon - 93; Cale Makar - 50)

Sabres - 28 (Jack Eichel - 78; Sam Reinhart - 50)

Blackhawks - 24 (Patrick Kane - 84; Jonathan Toews - 60)

Rangers - 20 (Artemi Panarin - 95; Mika Zibanejad - 75)

Hall aiming to prove a point

It came as a shock that Hall decided to sign with the Sabres on a one-year, $8million contract instead of a long-term deal with a perennial contender. While playing with Eichel was certainly attractive, Hall also played under Krueger with the Oilers in 2012-13 and he'll have plenty of opportunities to put up numbers and potentially land a big contract next offseason, either with Buffalo or another team.

Hall has something to prove after he split last season between New Jersey and Arizona and reached the playoffs for just the second time in his career this past season with the Coyotes.

After totalling career bests with 39 goals, 54 assists and 93 points with the Devils in 2017-18, Hall suffered through an injury-plagued 2018-19. He registered 10 goals and 27 points in 35 games after joining the Coyotes in mid-December but never seemed to find his niche.

When Hall had his MVP season in 2017-18, the best forwards on that Devils team were rookie Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri. Hischier was a No. 1 overall draft pick and Palmieri is a consistent 20-goal scorer but neither had the level of skill then that Eichel has now. New Jersey finished 15th in the NHL with 2.96 goals per game that season, even with the league MVP on their roster.

Hall's playmaking ability should be a boon for Eichel, who scored a career-high 36 goals last season despite playing only 68 games. Eichel averaged 0.53 goals per game in 2019-20, the same number as McDavid and ahead of Steven Stamkos, Nathan MacKinnon and Patrick Kane.

The addition of Hall should give the Sabres two solid lines and will ease the burden on Victor Olofsson, who scored 20 goals in 54 games as a rookie last season.

A best-case scenario for Buffalo is that Hall's presence lights a fire under Jeff Skinner, who was among the league's biggest disappointments last season with 14 goals and 23 points after he signed an eight-year, $72million contract following a 40-goal campaign in 2018-19.

Skinner's minus-26 goal differential last season was the league's second-largest decline of all players who played at least 30 games. Only Cam Atkinson (-29) was worse. Skinner's haul of 14 goals was his lowest total since he had 13 for Carolina in 2012-13.

The Sabres by all accounts should be better next season - whenever that is - and with the NFL's Buffalo Bills currently sitting atop their division after recently ending a lengthy playoff drought, it could be time for the Sabres to finally rise as well.

As Manchester United attempt to pick up the pieces from a shocker against Istanbul Basaksehir, so Everton are preparing to pick them apart.

Before United travelled to Istanbul, a glance at their previous 10 away results gave the impression that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had produced a miracle of a team.

Teams typically achieve their better results with the benefits of home comfort, so to string together 10 successive wins on the road looked like a striking achievement.

As it happens, the Old Trafford performances have been frequently humdrum and at times wretched (W4 D3 L3 in their last 10 home games), and there are compelling reasons for the away record being not quite all that, either.

And after a calamitous showing in Europe, it is worth looking at quite how this underwhelming United side managed their 10-game streak, and why Everton will fancy inflicting another blow on the Red Devils.

 

Seagulls and Eagles - United away record may have been a Premier League red herring

An eye-catching victory over Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain took United to double figures on their winning away run, but the class of opposition that night was not reflected across the 10-game span.

Solskjaer's men scored three wins over Brighton and Hove Albion, one against Luton Town, and their others came in clashes with Newcastle United, Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and a relegation-bound Norwich City.

It was a free-falling Leicester that United beat at the end of last season to snag a place in the Champions League at the expense of their hosts, rather than a side playing with the verve of this term's revitalised Foxes.

Add into the equation an overseas defeat to Sevilla midway through the run, albeit on neutral ground in the Europa League semi-finals, and the record is somewhat less wowing. There was a bad Wembley loss to Chelsea too in the FA Cup semi-finals.

However, 27 goals scored and five goals conceded in those 10 victories point to something, and fast breaks away from home have become a real weapon.

In the six Premier League wins during that run of away successes, United scored 17 goals, with three of those goals coming from 10 fast breaks.

From their two Premier League away games this season alone, United have scored twice from five fast breaks, yet turning defence into attack at pace is something United only reliably perform on the road.

Across the nine Premier League fixtures in their last 10 home games, United have scored 15 times but have only had two fast breaks, and they failed to score from either.

They have netted seven goals from 17 shots on target in two Premier League away trips this season, compared to two goals from 12 shots on target in four home games.

 

 

An unhappy hunting ground

Saturday's fixture is evocative of some tough days and dark nights for United, of big moments for the likes of Everton's Duncan Ferguson and Marouane Fellaini.

Since the beginning of 2010, Everton have won five times at home against United in the Premier League, drawing three and losing three.

A 4-0 trouncing by Everton at Goodison Park in April 2019 was a jarring first experience of the fixture as a manager for Solskjaer, who was prompted to apologise to supporters and promise a clear-out of his squad.

In that game, United had only one shot on target from seven attempts and only touched the ball 12 times in the Everton penalty area, according to Opta data.

In short, they barely laid a glove on Everton, but a pair of 1-1 draws at Old Trafford and Goodison since then have suggested these teams are perhaps more closely matched.

Everton sit fourth this season, with 13 points from seven games, but have lost two in a row, while United enter the latest round of games with a sorry seven points from six outings.

Carlo Ancelotti will not read much into the league table at this stage.

The Italian will nevertheless be wary of visitors who have made a habit of defying expected goals (xG) and expected goals against (xGA) numbers when travelling in recent times.

United's 27-5 goals for-and-against aggregate in streaking to those 10 straight away wins saw them out-perform xG of 19.4 and xGA of 9.5.

 

 

Turkey followed quickly by Toffees

United's turnaround between playing in Istanbul on Wednesday evening to taking on Everton on Saturday is such that players may find themselves sapped of energy.

Solskjaer has the resources to change up his starting XI, having begun in Turkey with the likes of David de Gea, Paul Pogba, Fred and Scott McTominay among his substitutes.

But there is no disguising the strain that midweek Champions League trips can put on teams with weekend Premier League commitments.

It becomes a particular strain when domestic league games follow just three days after away trips in Europe.

Since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, there have been 17 previous occurrences of such turnarounds, with a mixed bag of eight wins, six defeats and three draws recorded by those sides with such a short space between matches. 

United themselves have had awkward returns to action after Champions League games in that time, with wins over Palace and Brighton countered by a home defeat to Huddersfield Town and a draw with Wolves at Old Trafford.

Last season they were used to quick turnarounds after Thursday night Europa League duty, losing at Newcastle and drawing with Aston Villa following continental commitments but beating Norwich and Watford, both of whom went on to be relegated.

What might be most concerning is the fact Saturday's game kicks off at 12:30pm GMT.

Only on two occasions since the start of 2017-18 have English teams faced lunchtime Saturday games after returning from Wednesday evening Champions League activity, and it has been Tottenham on each occasion, beaten at home on their return to action by Manchester City and Leicester City.

Never before had there been a full-time female coach in MLB history.

Step forward Alyssa Nakken.

Nakken made history when she was appointed San Francisco Giants assistant in January, joining Gabe Kapler's coaching staff.

The 30-year-old has her first season under her belt, and reflecting on the historic campaign, Nakken told Stats Perform News: "There is a lot of emotions that come with it. Throughout the interview process, I was just really working towards that next step in my career. I wasn't thinking about making any sort of history or anything. I was just looking for that next opportunity in baseball, and specifically within the Giants organisation.

"So, that was my focus for a month and a half of a pretty intense interview process. Then at the end, when the offer was made, it sort of hit me. 'Okay, yay, I have this new job but wow there's this whole extra layer coming on top of it' in the form of being the first full-time female coach at the major-league level. It's an incredible honour that makes me so humble, then it also lights this other fire within me that is like 'okay, I have this additional responsibility to ensure that I continue to pave this path for many, many other women who are about to walk it soon after this'.

"What was difficult or just an interesting feeling, when the announcement was made, just an outpouring of love, support, respect and congratulations were thrown my way. Of course, I was so appreciative but I was also like, I still have a job to do, just like this hire. It's not like when you win a World Series or big game, and when people congratulate you, you can relax your shoulders a little and soak it all in. It was the exact opposite.

"I have a lot of work to do, a lot to learn, a lot of relationships to build, my life is going to look a little bit different than what it did in 2019, so here we go. But I'm incredibly honoured and humbled by this responsibility."

A former Sacramento State softball player and lifelong Giants fan along with her family, Nakken first joined the eight-time World Series champions as an intern in baseball operations in 2014.

"I was three weeks old when I went to my first Giants game," Nakken said with a smile. "I grew up about two hours away from San Francisco. My parents and family are just big Giants fans. It was a dream to come to graduate school in San Francisco, and then to get an internship with the team I grew up loving was beyond my wildest dreams. Then to just continue to move within the organisation and take steps forwards in my career, it is a dream come true.

"It does mean a little bit more that it's my 'hometown team'. There's also some added comfort in that. This organisation has felt like family for a really long time. To go on this journey with my family is a really special and huge benefit for me."

Nakken's first season as an assistant was far from routine amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Initially scheduled to start in March, the 2020 MLB season was pushed back to July, with the regular season reduced from 162 games to 60.

The Giants (29-31) missed the playoffs, but there were signs of improvement in Kapler's first season as manager.

San Francisco arguably had the most improved offense in MLB, while their improvement in on-base plus slugging was one of the biggest by any National League team in the division era since 1969, per Stats Perform.

Brandon Belt (1.015), Mike Yastrzemski (.968) and Alex Dickerson (.947) all had an OPS of .900 or higher this year, marking the first time the Giants had three players with a .900-plus OPS in the same season (minimum 150 PA) since 2000 (Barry Bonds, Ellis Burks, Jeff Kent).

The Giants hit very well in clutch situations this year. Their .289 batting average in "close and late" situations was the second best in the majors, behind the San Diego Padres (.295).

"Close and late" is defined as the seventh inning or later with the batting team ahead by one run, tied, or with the tying run on base, at bat or on deck.

"A rollercoaster from the beginning," she said. "Back in March during Spring Training, we were really getting to that halfway point and really working our way up, starting to really get a feel for each other because it's a brand new staff for the most part and a lot of new players, we were getting into this nice rhythm of getting to know each other. Then all of a sudden, a complete shutdown.

"That three months of lockdown was full of emotions. You know when you're anticipating something, like the anticipation of going to the dentist and it scares you. When you're anticipating that, it causes some anxiety. For me personally, the idea of maybe having a season or maybe not, the anticipation of it was causing some anxiety. I just wanted to get in there and get going. When I'm thinking about something, I find myself overthinking and I spiral into some negative thoughts and it's not healthy for my mental game.

"Then you had the back-and-forth with the league and Players Association. For a while, we were like, 'Okay, we think we will be back in mid-May', and then it was nope, June 1st, nope, mid-June… this wild and range of feelings. On top of that, the extreme anxiety the whole world has faced with the global pandemic and wanting to make sure my family was okay and I remained healthy and did all I could to support those around me.

"Then we get into the season and it came with its own restraints and restrictions that no one has seen before. There's a benefit though for this season being your first because you have nothing to compare it to really, so I just rolled with it. The season itself, 60 games in 66 days – that's a lot of emotions, rollercoaster feelings. We went on a seven-game winning streak at one point, and at another point, we didn't have a great road trip. To go through that, it was pretty wild but I wouldn't change it for anything."

Before the season got underway, Nakken became the first woman to coach in an on-field capacity during an MLB game when she took over as Giants first-base coach in July's exhibition against the Oakland Athletics.

"It was such a special moment. In the moment, I knew I had to be prepared," Nakken added. "Antoan Richardson is our first-base coach, who I worked very closely with this season. Before the game, during BP [batting practice], he said hey be ready I'm going to bring you in to coach first in the seventh inning. I was like okay, there is no benefit in stressing about it or hesitating in saying yes. I was ready for it quite honestly. Having those three months of that shutdown and have some more time to learn from Antoan and connect with players in a different way than what we thought, and a very intense training game, it was extremely beneficial just for my development and growth.

"I felt nothing but ready for that moment. Stepping onto the field, there's no fans, but it was the first time we were playing against a team that wasn't ourselves. That was a really cool thing because it's like, 'man, a couple of months ago we weren't sure if this moment would happen and now it's here and we're playing against an opponent who are playing in a different colour uniform to us'.

"It also went through my head, okay cameras are here and I think the game is on TV, I don't think a female has ever coached on the field before in a MLB game, this might make a few headlines. Sure enough it made quite a few but I was just so locked-in into the game and moment, I was just focused on really knowing the signs, how the opposing pitcher controls the running game, just being a resource for our players when they got on base. Afterwards in the club house when I was able to have access to my phone, another outpour of respect and congratulations."

So, what is the ultimate goal for Nakken as she paves the way for women in baseball?

"It's so crazy and exciting to think about. What is exciting to think about is that there doesn't have to be an end goal, but there is so much to learn in the process to get to the next step of your career," Nakken said. "I experienced that through my time with the Giants. I think an assistant coach is the best job ever because I get to work alongside all our coaches in all aspects of the game and be a resource for our players in every aspect they may need.

"It's just a great learning opportunity for me and then when I do sit back and think because I know it's important to set goals and not get complacent, but my goal in the next couple of years is to really dominate this assistant coach role. I'm exciting to go into a full 162-game season with this added knowledge and be able to be a sharper resource. Kai Correa, he has been someone I've been learning from so much, I think that he is just a resource for me.

"I'm learning a lot about a bench coach role. There's some things that I really see that if I continue to develop my skills in this area, I could potentially become a bench coach in the future if future me wants that. I know a lot of bench coaches in the league are looking to become managers one day, so that just seems like a good path to journey along."

The use of data, machine learning and AI has helped revolutionise sport and MLB in recent years, as professional teams look for any advantage they can get.

Analytics goes way beyond recording basic stats such as home runs, RBIs and ERAs, the new metrics and data are able to more accurately quantify and predict player and team performance.

Stats Perform harnesses the true power of sports data by leveraging advancements in AI to generate the industry's richest insights.

"It's so important," Nakken said when discussing the role of data and analytics. "With our staff specifically, it's a foundation of what our coaching philosophy is. We work alongside our analysts every single moment of the day. We have a text thread that is just coaching staff and our analysts are on that. They had so much value to our roles and team, and to our game strategy. We lean on them so much.

"I can't speak for other organisations but we couldn't do our jobs without them. Any question we have about anything, they are able to answer it very quickly with data and research behind it. As coaches, we are involved in a lot of processes of developing the analytics, but it's really them who put the work into it and give us the reports. Then it's on as coaches to learn how to digest that and communicate it effectively to players so it's not an overload of information. Behind that nugget is a vast amount of work and research. Our analysts are incredible, the heartbeat of our organisation. It's on us coaches to put that nice art flair on it, not overwhelming for our players. Almost every decision made this season, there was a huge emphasis in analytics behind it to confirm why we were making a decision."

Thick and fast come the questions and concerns for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the latest exhibition of Manchester United's apparent mediocrity coming in a 1-0 home defeat to Arsenal in the manager's 100th match at the helm.

Sunday's result means United have gone winless in their first four home matches of a domestic league campaign for the first time since 1972-73, with the Red Devils' form showing signs of trouble even before Arsenal's latest visit.

But the manner of United's performance in contrast to that of Mikel Arteta's Gunners will arguably provide the greatest concern, with Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba once again seemingly unable to co-exist effectively.

United came into the contest on a temporary crest of positivity following their 5-0 demolition of RB Leipzig in the Champions League, Solskjaer earning praise for his deployment of a midfield diamond.

But any goodwill from that performance dissipated in the first 45 minutes here as Arteta set up Arsenal virtually to perfection, with United's chief creators – Pogba and Fernandes – nullified.

The contest was a mismatch in some ways during the first half as one team aggressively asserted control on and off the ball, while the other meekly struggled to put up resistance.

Initially Arsenal allowed United to have possession, but so effective were the visitors with their high press that they essentially began to dominate in possession by default.

United's passing didn't help, though credit should go where it was due for Arsenal – Bukayo Saka made four interceptions in the first half, while Alexandre Lacazette made three tackles, highlighting their approach in the final third.

In the opening 10 minutes, only 12.8 per cent of the match was played in Arsenal's defensive third compared to 43.3 per cent in United's. That set the tone for the remainder of the first half, with the hosts managing a solitary shot, their worst such record in the opening 45 of a home league since 2015.

United began the second half with a renewed sense of positivity and fluency in attack, with two shots in as many minutes, but it was by no means the start of a sustained improvement.

Solskjaer altered his set-up slightly at the interval, pushing Mason Greenwood further out to the right, with Marcus Rashford supported down the middle by Fernandes and Pogba on the left.

United enjoyed a much greater share of the ball after the break, up to 59 per cent from 48 per cent.

But Pogba and Fernandes continued to struggle to find relevance, both ending the match with just a single key pass each and neither managing to get a shot on target.

Jamie Carragher's recent suggestion the pair cannot play in the same team caused much debate, with even the Portugal midfielder insisting they can feature together.

But there was little evidence here to support Fernandes' claim, with the pair appearing shoehorned into the side with Fred and Scott McTominay – as a result, United were so narrow and that constantly played into the hands of Arsenal, who suffocated the hosts throughout.

There was an air of inevitability around Pogba then conceding the decisive penalty, needlessly tripping Hector Bellerin when the Spaniard looked more likely to head towards the corner flag than actually threaten the United goal.

As unimpressive as United were, Arsenal deserve praise – Arteta brought them to Old Trafford with a clear gameplan and it was executed to perfection.

Gabriel Magalhaes' performance at centre-back was nearly flawless, the Brazilian stepping up impressively to implement Arsenal's aggressive press, and he dealt with Rashford and Greenwood well on the whole.

The pre-season signing made five tackles and four clearances, while Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny were effective in midfield – the Ghanaian particularly imperious as he completed four tackles and gained possession 11 times, a high for Arsenal.

But while the visitors did well, this is by no means an all-time great Arsenal side and they beat United commandingly, which should have alarm bells ringing at Old Trafford.

Diamonds aren't forever for Solskjaer, who might be best served reverting to United's usual formation even if that means dropping one of his two star midfielders.

A Clasico showdown against Real Madrid, or West Ham away?

Before Lionel Messi steps out onto the Camp Nou pitch on Saturday, remember this: he had made up his mind, and he had chosen West Ham away.

Playing for Manchester City was Messi's plan for 2020-21, it is believed, and if that meant sacrificing leading Barcelona against their greatest rivals, shucks to it.

Messi must have thought he had nothing left to prove in this fixture, being already the top scorer in Clasico history with 26 goals across all competitions, way ahead of names such as Alfredo di Stefano, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul and Cesar Rodriguez.

Eighteen of those goals have come in LaLiga, from 27 appearances, and he has averaged one goal involvement per game in the league thanks to nine assists.

However, he has failed to score in his last five Clasico games - three in the league and two in the Copa del Rey.

This weekend, with the world watching, Barcelona need the real Messi to stand up.


Still the same player?

Before the king of the Clasico faces Los Blancos one more time, team-mate Ansu Fati was moved to comment this week that "Messi is still Messi".

The 17-year-old spoke after Messi's early penalty helped Barcelona to a 5-1 Champions League win over Ferencvaros.

Yet heading into that game, Barcelona's new head coach Ronald Koeman said Messi's form "could be better", cosseting that in sufficient pleasantries to avoid any blowback.

As for who is right - Fati or Koeman - it is hard to dispute the experienced Dutchman's verdict.

Doubtless Fati loves playing with 33-year-old Messi, because what teenager wouldn't relish every minute playing with an all-time great?

But Messi's numbers are down in the early weeks of this LaLiga season, with his average attempted dribbles per game down from 8.58 in 2019-20 to just 4.75, and his shots on target per game at a relatively meagre 1.75 when he has averaged 2.15 or higher in each campaign over the past decade.

One goal in four LaLiga matches in 2020-21 equates to his slowest start to a season since 2005-06, when the teenage Messi failed to score in his first four games.

The Clasico drought

Those five goalless games in Spain's biggest match have consisted of four starts and one appearance off the bench, amounting to 425 minutes of football without a goal, his second longest run without netting in the Clasico - behind a six-game sequence from April 2014 to December 2016.

He has failed to score with his last 16 shots in the fixture and has not been on the winning side in a LaLiga Clasico at Camp Nou since Barcelona's 2-1 victory in March 2015, having missed the 5-1 success in October 2018 because of a fractured arm.

He has not had a goal involvement - scoring or assisting - in the last three Clasico league games, putting him one away from what from that statistical perspective would be the worst run of his career.

And the goal return from Messi in Barcelona's biggest home league match of the season has been modest - albeit only by his extraordinary standards - for some time.

He scored twice in a 2-2 draw in October 2012 and netted once when the team played out the same result in May 2018, but those are the only goals he has scored in this LaLiga game since a late strike sealed a 2-0 win in 2008.

Nobody has scored more Clasico league goals at Camp Nou than Messi's haul of seven, which he launched with a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw back in March 2007.

But the big-game returns are diminishing with time, or at least that is how it seems.

Has Messi become a flat-track bully?

The instinctive response is to challenge the use of such a reductive term to describe a footballer so eminent.

The transition happens time and again though, from sport to sport. The ageing superstars who once routinely tormented elite rivals serve up reminders of their most glorious days in flashes, often against more limited opposition than before. Case in point: Messi looked sublime at times against Ferencvaros.

In tennis, Roger Federer can still toy with low-ranked tennis players to the point of doling out early-round humiliations, but will he win another grand slam title, having recently turned 39? No, probably not. Will Messi win another Champions League? No, probably not. It is hard to see it happening at a crisis-hit Barcelona, anyway.

Messi's haul of 25 LaLiga goals last season was his lowest since he scored 23 in the 2008-09 treble-winning campaign, when Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry were also scavenging for chances.

But if he is not scoring consistently against Real Madrid, and if he was powerless to prevent Bayern Munich's rout of Barcelona in the Champions League back in August, then where is Messi making his big difference heading into his mid-thirties?

Since the start of August 2018, in LaLiga he has scored eight goals against Eibar, five each against Real Betis, Levante, Alaves and Sevilla, and four apiece against Real Mallorca, Celta Vigo and Espanyol.

Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao are the two teams who have defied him throughout that time.

A leaving present

If this is to be Messi's sign-off stretch with Barcelona - and given his recent state of vexation that seems highly possible - then it is to be assumed he wants to depart with a swagger rather than a shrug of a season.

Had Barcelona's board acquiesced to Messi's departure at the end of last term, this weekend's kick-off in El Clasico would have coincided with the Argentinian winding down at the London Stadium after a lunchtime outing for Pep Guardiola's City against David Moyes' Hammers.

Perhaps Messi would have tuned in for El Clasico on the team coach; perhaps not.

Messi was prepared to sacrifice the Clasico - the hysteria and the history that surrounds it - and that summed up the schism that had developed between him and the club's leadership.

He has since lost good friends Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal, offloaded to Atletico Madrid and Inter, and lost some of his sparkle at the same time.

Suarez and Vidal won't be coming back, but the sparkle still might. There were flashes against Ferencvaros - again, take the opposition into account - but a Clasico against a wobbling Madrid side seems as good an occasion as any for Messi to serve up a reminder of his greatness.

If he can lift himself for any game, it must be this one.

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