"Ridiculous" was a word used by Frank Lampard to sum up N'Golo Kante last week - and with good reason. 

The Chelsea midfielder is back fit, back in the side and more or less back to his best, having missed 16 Premier League matches last season. 

Kante's "quietly influential" form has helped Lampard's side to a strong start to the season that has left some to bill Sunday's derby clash with Tottenham as something of a title showdown – or at least a game that could well highlight which of the two has the best chance of dethroning Liverpool. 

A win for either side will move them top of the table after 10 games, but Kante's recent performances might just indicate Chelsea have the edge.

BACK WHERE HE BELONGS?

In 2018-19, Maurizio Sarri preferred Jorginho at the base of midfield, with Kante generally shifted to the right of a three. 

The system was hardly a failure: Chelsea returned to the Champions League, won the Europa League and only lost the EFL Cup final on penalties to Manchester City. Few, though, ever thought it brought the best out of Kante. 

Since taking charge last year, Lampard has shifted Kante back towards the middle and, as can be seen from his average touch maps, 2020-21 sees a full return for the France international as the midfield anchor.

N'Golo Kante's touch maps by season, from 2018-19 (L) to 2020-21. The shift from the right-hand side towards the base of midfield is clear.

He is averaging 82 touches per 90 minutes in the Premier League, the highest figure he has ever posted for Chelsea, five more than in his title-winning debut season in 2016-17. He is also averaging 67 passes per game, more than he ever has before for the club.

In other words, Kante is very much at the heart of Lampard's Chelsea.

He is also back to his exceptional defensive levels in 2020-21, averaging three interceptions per game – again the most in his Chelsea career – as well as three tackles, his highest figure under Lampard.

The caveat is his passes in the final third have dropped by an average of six per game compared to last season and by nine compared to 2018-19, but the creative talent at Lampard's disposal means the burden of attacking is no longer on Kante's shoulders.

HOJBJERG BATTLE AWAITS

If Chelsea's form is based in part on the performances of Kante, Tottenham's strong start to the season is very much built on the work of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Signed from Southampton for a reported £15million fee, the 25-year-old has established himself as Jose Mourinho's most important player behind the relentlessly brilliant Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

Through nine rounds of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign, Hojbjerg had managed more touches (809), attempted more passes (695) and completed more passes (619) than any other midfielder in the competition. He has also got stuck into 29 tackles, the third-highest number for midfielders this term and four more than Kante.

Hojbjerg might not be a player of the Kante mold, but the two have had remarkably similar influences on their teams. Each has one assist in nine league starts, their passing accuracy practically matches (88.5 per cent for Kante, 89.1 for Hojbjerg), and they have made exactly the same number of recoveries (64).

Effective as they are without the ball, so much of Chelsea and Spurs' good work with it also relies on these two.

Kante has started 139 open-play sequences this season, eclipsing Hojbjerg (111), but that is about as big a difference as you will find.

Of those sequences started by Kante, 13 have ended in a shot and two in a goal; for Hojbjerg, 11 have ended in a strike at goal and one has seen Spurs get on the scoresheet.

Indeed, in terms of involvements in open-play build-up, Kante has managed 423, only slightly up on Hojbjerg's 415. Of those tallies, each player has seen 31 of those involvements end in a shot; when it comes to resulting in a goal, Hojbjerg edges Kante eight to three.

On Sunday, the winner of the battle for midfield control between these two could well swing the match in his side's favour.

Pep Guardiola will demand "more, more, more" from his players after they thumped Burnley 5-0 on the back of Riyad Mahrez's hat-trick.

Benjamin Mendy and Ferran Torres were also on target as Guardiola's side found their scoring form, having struggled in front of goal in the early months of the season.

In his role as chief destroyer, Mahrez took his goals haul to seven in his last four Premier League appearances against Burnley.

His overall total of eight career goals against the Clarets means he has scored more against them in the Premier League than any other side.

The Algerian winger also took his tally of goal involvements in the Premier League to 102 (61 goals, 41 assists), making him the sixth African player to reach triple figures in the competition.

Such an impact means Mahrez looks set for a run in the City team, with Guardiola insisting the time for squad rotation in the Premier League is over, at least until the Champions League knockout rounds begin in February.

"Of course there will be players who are tired and need some rest," Guardiola said, "but they will play, the guys who defend well and score goals.

"The guys who do it will have more chances to play. It's not about right now making rotations. They are going to play more, more, more until they are tired."

Mahrez has clearly helped his cause, with the big win largely of his making, and Guardiola urged others to follow the former Leicester City player's lead.

"The last week or few days he's been much, much better and we saw him sharper," Guardiola said.

"Of course [a big win] can help us, especially for Riyad. Riyad has to score goals, the other ones have to score goals, [Raheem] Sterling when he plays has to score goals, and they don't score much.

"They have to score goals and that's the reason why they are here and play up front."

In the final reckoning, City had 68.6 per cent of possession and 19 shots to Burnley's nine.

Twice in the Premier League this season, City have taken more shots at goal, but they could not force a win on either occasion, losing 2-0 to Tottenham despite having 22 attempts and drawing 1-1 with Leeds United regardless of their 23 shots at the West Yorkshire side's goal.

City had scored just 10 times and lost twice in their opening eight Premier League games this season, which was hardly the start their manager wanted after being pushed aside by a rampant Liverpool in last season's one-sided title race.

Now, after inflicting another 5-0 defeat on Burnley - strangely, that has been the scoreline in their last four Etihad Stadium clashes with Sean Dyche's side - there is greater cause for optimism.

But Guardiola does not mind by how many goals his team win, as long as they continue to beat rival sides.

"It's not important; the important thing is winning games," said the former Barcelona head coach. "You can win it with a big margin and that's good, but I'm not expecting that every game we go out there and score a lot of goals.

"The important thing is to create the chances - every game we have a lot and today we were good and we converted."

For an afternoon at least, City did not miss Sergio Aguero.

The Argentine striker's knee injury has meant he has missed most of the season to date, and Guardiola reported that remained a problem, saying Aguero had been unable to train earlier in the day.

"We know the injury he had is not easy for the recovery. We have to handle it as best as possible," Guardiola said. "When he is ready he will start to train with us and play."

Play was stopped in the 10th minute of the Serie A clash between Benevento and Juventus as players and coaching staff from both teams paid tribute to Diego Maradona. 

Argentina great Maradona, who lit up the Italian top flight during seven seasons with Napoli, died of natural causes at the age of 60 on Wednesday. 

Tributes have been paid across the sporting world this week, with a minute's silence being held ahead of each Serie A game, during which players will wear black armbands. 

An image of Maradona is also being shown on stadium screens in the 10th minute of each fixture, marking the shirt number he wore, along with a "Ciao Diego" message.

Benevento and Juve players, including Argentina international Paulo Dybala, went a step further with their tributes as play came to a standstill on Saturday for those present to applaud arguably the greatest ever footballer. 

Maradona led Napoli to league titles in 1987 and 1990 and the club plan to rename their San Paolo home in his honour.

Jurgen Klopp was involved in a heated exchange with BT Sport reporter Des Kelly after Liverpool dropped points in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion.

Pascal Gross scored a 93rd-minute penalty at the Amex Stadium after referee Stuart Attwell overturned his initial decision and pointed to the spot following intervention by VAR.

Andy Robertson clipped Danny Welbeck when attempting to clear the ball late on and the officials decided the contact was worthy of a spot-kick – Brighton's second of the match, with Neal Maupay becoming the first player to start a Premier League game, miss a penalty, and be subbed off before half-time since Dennis Bergkamp in April 1998.

The drama came at the end of a game in which Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane had goals disallowed for offside, but Klopp, whose side have dropped six points from winning positions this season, accepted the decisions.

"The two offsides I didn't see back but our analysts said yes [they were off]. They were really close," he said. 

"With Mo I think it was a foot but we are used to armpits and club badges so, if it's a toe, then it's obviously offside and the other one with Sadio was clear I heard.

"The penalty, that's how it is. I think the decisions were right, yes"

When it was put to him by interviewer Kelly that skipper Jordan Henderson said some Brighton players had agreed it should probably not have been a penalty, Klopp reacted angrily.

"Look, you try to create again, at my cost, again, a headline, you do," he said. "Because t hat's how it is, if I say now it was not, but the ref whistled it.

"Don't look like this, you try, always, all the time, but I say today it was a penalty. But you are not happy with that answer, so what do you want to hear? Give the answers to yourself...

"I said it was a penalty because the ref whistled it after watching it."

Klopp then took a swipe at the broadcaster's decision to select Liverpool for the early kick-off, three days on from the Reds' Champions League meeting against Atalanta.

Kelly explained it was a Premier League decision to televise matches at 12:30 GMT, to which the German coach replied: "I say it a lot – you picked the 12:30pm kick-off.

"You did. Not you personally. I'm not having a go at the broadcaster, I'm just saying how it is. It is really dangerous for the players.

"When we had a talk between the managers a week ago, most wanted five subs. Since then nothing happened."

Klopp then turned focus to Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder, who this week labelled Klopp "selfish" for his stance on the planned return of supporters to certain Premier League grounds.

"Chris Wilder or whoever says constantly than I am selfish... I think all the things he said show that he's selfish," Klopp said.

"For example, if we have five subs today, I take off Robbo (Robertson) to protect him and bring on Kostas Tsimikas.

"I only go for the broadcasters when we have to play Wednesday and 12:30pm on a Saturday. Only seven managers have a similar problem and they all agree. 

"In this season it's a bigger problem, and it's not okay. We've had this slot three times. Look who else had it three times: nobody."

After Diogo Jota's ninth Liverpool goal had put the Reds ahead, Brighton equalised through one of only two shots on target they mustered, as the Reds' winless away run in the top flight stretched to five games – their longest since March 2017.

Liverpool lost James Milner to a hamstring injury in the second half but a bigger talking point was Salah's reaction to being subbed off with a little over 25 minutes to go.

Salah threw his arms up in unhappiness when his number went up on the board and appeared to blank Klopp as he made his way to the bench.

"If Mo is smiling when leaving the pitch then something is wrong," Klopp said. "He was out for 10 days with coronavirus. We have to be careful – he doesn't like it. But that's all it is."

Football has produced few more divisive figures than Diego Maradona.

The Argentina great died on Wednesday at the age of 60 following a cardiac arrest and, while opinions on his legacy may differ depending on where you live, his remarkable impression on the game is undoubted.

The abiding image of Maradona for most likely stems from the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England.

For so many in England, he will forever be remembered for arguably the most controversial goal in the history of football, which saw the diminutive Maradona somehow rise above the comparatively towering figure of Peter Shilton and divert a sliced clearance from Steve Hodge into the empty net with his hand.

But that act of what can at best be considered deceit did not take away from the majesty of his ultimately decisive second goal, dubbed the Goal of the Century, with the balletic grace with which he weaved past the helpless England defenders before rounding Shilton and slotting home the defining memory of Maradona for his adoring fans in his home country and scores of fans around the world.

That game perhaps encapsulated the man known as El Pibe de Oro (The Golden Boy). As England striker Gary Lineker, who scored the goal overshadowed by Maradona's brace at Estadio Azteca, said in a tweet paying tribute following news of his death, the Albiceleste legend led a "blessed but troubled life".

Raised in a poor family in Villa Fiorito, a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Maradona's blessings were evident from an early age. At just eight years old, his promise was discovered by a scout, Francisco Cornejo, and he was signed to the youth team of Argentinos Juniors.

"He did things that I have never seen anyone else do," Cornejo, who died in 2008, later said of Maradona.

Maradona made his Argentinos debut 10 days before turning 16 and marked it in fitting fashion by nutmegging an opponent within minutes of entering the pitch.

One hundred and sixteen goals in 166 games for Argentinos followed and resulted in Maradona receiving a dream move to Boca Juniors, though his spell at La Bombonera yielded only one league title and was marked by a difficult relationship with coach Silvio Marzolini before he moved to Barcelona in a world-record transfer in 1982.

Barca did not see Maradona at his best at the 1982 World Cup in Spain that preceded his debut for the Blaugrana, yet the impact he had on his cohorts at Camp Nou was stark.

"He had complete mastery of the ball," former team-mate Lobo Carrasco remarked. "When Maradona ran with the ball or dribbled through the defence, he seemed to have the ball tied to his boots."

His time in Catalonia delivered both brilliance and tumult in equal measure. Maradona became the first Barca player to receive a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabeu in 1983, but sustained a career-threatening ankle injury against Athletic Bilbao and was then involved in a brawl against the same opposition in the 1984 Copa del Rey final that hastened his exit from the club.

It was perhaps no surprise that the pinnacle of his international career coincided with that of his club career at Napoli, for whom Maradona will forever be an icon.

After being named player of the tournament at the '86 World Cup, Maradona inspired Napoli to their first Serie A title and triumph in the Coppa Italia. UEFA Cup glory followed in 1989 prior to a second league title a year later.

Napoli's Stadio San Paolo was the scene of glory for Argentina in a World Cup semi-final win over Italy, in which Maradona scored the ultimately decisive penalty in the shoot-out, though he could not ensure a successful title defence as West Germany prevailed in the final.

Italian football saw the best of Maradona, whom Franco Baresi described as his toughest opponent - "when he was on form, there was almost no way of stopping him," the Milan legend said.

Yet it also saw significant off-field struggles and he left Napoli after serving a 15-month ban for failing a drug test for cocaine, battling his addiction to the drug and alcohol until 2004.

He returned to Argentina by signing for Newell's Old Boys after a turbulent spell with Sevilla, with his international career ended in the wake of a positive test for ephedrine doping during the 1994 World Cup that resulted in him being sent home from the United States.

Retirement came on the back of a second two-year stint at Boca, but Maradona was rarely out of the spotlight even as he fought addiction and struggles with obesity, undergoing gastric bypass surgery in 2005.

His post-playing career also saw a string of brief coaching tenures, which included him leading Argentina to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup, where they were thumped 4-0 by Germany. Maradona made sure his departure was fittingly acrimonious, levelling accusations of betrayal at the national team's hierarchy.

Maradona had seemingly found some stability in his coaching career at Gimnasia y Esgrima de la Plata when he was admitted to hospital this month having recently renewed his contract through the 2020-21 season.

"We live an unforgettable story," Gimnasia posted in a tribute on Twitter.

Blessed but troubled, tempestuous yet utterly bewitching to watch. Gimnasia's words struck the right chord.

His story was undeniably unforgettable and it is telling that, despite Lionel Messi's otherworldly exploits, it is Maradona who stands as the symbol of Argentinian football for so many.

As Messi wrote of Maradona on Instagram: "He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal."

Whether it's the Hand of God or the Goal of the Century, his presentation to hordes of Napoli fans or that goal celebration at the 94 World Cup. Maradona was the artist behind so many of the game's indelible images. Football is mourning the premature passing of an all-time great, but his legacy and impact will endure for decades to come.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin says Diego Maradona "set football alight and thrilled fans young and old" and confirmed his death would be marked with a minute's silence prior to all Champions League and Europa League games this week.

The Argentina great, who played for Barcelona, Napoli and Sevilla as well as Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors and Newell's Old Boys in his homeland, died aged 60 after reportedly suffering a heart attack on Wednesday.

Ceferin said: "I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Diego Maradona, one of world football’s greatest and most iconic figures.

"I was in touch recently to wish him well, and this news comes as a considerable shock to me.

"Diego Maradona achieved greatness as a wonderful player with a genius and charisma of his own. He was a hero in his native Argentina, with whom he enjoyed World Cup glory, and became an eternal idol for the supporters of Napoli, who will never forget the successes he brought to the club during his memorable spell in Italy.

"He will go down in history as someone who set football alight and thrilled fans young and old with his brilliance and skill. I have instructed UEFA to hold a minute’s silence in memory of Diego at this week’s matches."

Wherever you stand on football's GOAT debate, you can't deny the legacy of Diego Maradona.

Some would place him behind Lionel Messi as Argentina's greatest ever footballer, and short of Pele in the sport's pantheon of the mighty; others would say Maradona eclipses them all. It's a debate that has raged for decades, and one that is not likely to be settled for some time.

But nobody can argue that Maradona – who died on Wednesday at the age of 60 – produced a string of performances to rival anything the World Cup has ever witnessed in Mexico in 1986.

From the group stage to the final with West Germany, via the 'Goal of the Century' and a brazen moment of cheating, Maradona was so far above his contemporaries that the sheer idea of anyone else winning the Golden Ball was laughable.

Argentina beat South Korea, drew with Italy and defeated Bulgaria in their group, then saw off Uruguay, England and Belgium in the knockouts before a 3-2 final defeat of West Germany. 

As Opta data shows, Maradona was the beating heart of the Albiceleste's second World Cup triumph.

TAKE MY BREATH AWAY

Gary Lineker was the only player to score more goals (six) at the 1986 World Cup than Maradona (five). That's about the only category where he did not come out on top.

He added five assists to those five goals in his seven appearances, giving him the most goal involvements (10) of any player, ahead of the USSR's Igor Belanov (eight), and Lineker, Careca and Preben Elkjaer Larsen (six).

It stands to reason that Maradona also created more goalscoring chances (27) than any other player. Next on the list was France's Alain Giresse (24), then Klaus Allofs (23), Michel Platini (19) and Careca (17).

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH

Everyone, most famously West Germany, tried to man-mark Maradona out of the equation. None succeeded.

He completed 53 dribbles across the tournament, a tally that puts the rest of the competition to shame. The next highest number was recorded by USSR's Ivan Yaremchuk, who managed 16.

Of course, that kind of dazzling play will always attract a more prosaic approach from the opposition. Maradona was fouled 53 times, more than double the number of anyone else (Enzo Francescoli was next on 27 fouls won).

EDGE OF HEAVEN

Maradona's all-round impact on proceedings could only come from a player given freedom to drop deeper and seize the ball from lesser men. It's incredible, then, that he managed 44 touches in the opposition box, eight more than the next-highest on the list, Brazil's Careca. Lineker, winner of the Golden Boot, had 31 such touches.

Lineker and England have, of course, never forgotten Maradona's impact on their 2-1 quarter-final defeat in Mexico City. It was the scene of his greatest goal – a mazy, miraculous waltz through the heart of the opposition that ended with the bamboozling of goalkeeper Peter Shilton – and his crowning moment of infamy, when 'The Hand of God' punched Argentina into the lead.

Perhaps that wasn't such a one-off, though. Since 1966, no player has committed as many handballs at the World Cup as Maradona (seven) – and they're just the ones the referees spotted.

Football legend Diego Maradona has died after suffering cardiac arrest, multiple media entities are reporting.

The Argentinian who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title in Mexico, died two weeks after being released from hospital after undergoing brain surgery.

Considered one of the greatest ever to play the game during his illustrious but oftentimes scandal-ridden career, Maradona played for Newell's Old Boys, Sevilla, Napoli, Barcelona, Boca Juniors and Argentinos Juniors scoring more than 250 goals in a career spanning more than two decades.

He represented Argentina at the 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994 World Cups and scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for the national team. At the 1986 World Cup, he controversially scored with the "Hand of God" in Argentina's 2-1 win over England. His second goal in that match is widely regarded as one of the best goals ever scored in a World Cup.

Maradona was the coach of Argentinian club Gimnasia y Esgrima at the time of his death. He was 60 years old.

Zinedine Zidane insists Real Madrid will go to Inter to win despite injuries and a run of three victories in eight games placing the Spanish champions under scrutiny.

Madrid are third in Champions League Group B, a point above the Nerazzurri, after winning the reverse fixture 3-2.

A second group win of the season would put them in a strong position to progress, but they head to San Siro without captain Sergio Ramos, midfielder Federico Valverde or striker Karim Benzema.

Madrid are also coming off the back of a 4-1 loss to Valencia and a 1-1 draw at Villarreal in their previous two LaLiga matches, while they have only won twice in their past seven games in Europe.

Yet Zidane is not prepared to set his side out simply to avoid defeat despite the precarious nature of both the group and his squad of available players.

"No, we always go out to win, we always want to win," he said. "We can't think about drawing or losing. All I'm telling you is the most important thing is to give everything on the pitch. We always go out onto the pitch to win.

"Football is physical and mental and the mental part is just as important. My analysis is: this is football. There are moments you are very strong and you can bounce back and there are more difficult moments, like the general situation is now in this world we live in. It's correct we're going through a lower period.

"It was a difficult game but it's not just Real Madrid. I think every team has had difficulties in this season.

"The team started and ended the game well [against Inter] but it was difficult because we're playing very good teams. Against Villarreal, the same happened.

"Winning the game until the 74th, 75th minute, but in one play, which can happen, they scored a goal. I'm not a fatalist; I just think this is part of football. We try to work and get better, which is key. We try not to concede and to score goals ourselves."

The loss of Ramos is a particular concern as Madrid have suffered seven defeats in the past eight Champions League matches the centre-back has missed.

"We know how important he is as a player, but we have to break this statistic," Zidane said. "Obviously, we'd like him to be here, but he's injured.

"We're going to try to change that bad record because it's a final, it's three points, we know the situation in the group and we'll have to suffer, fight hard, but we're ready for it."

Isco is part of the squad despite his agent suggesting the midfielder wants a move in January, but Zidane was not prepared to discuss the topic.

"I'm not going to talk about rumours. Right now, he is our player and we're happy with him," he said.

Pep Guardiola was expecting Manchester City to start the new campaign on top form but insists "the season is still so young" as his team instead toil in the bottom half of the Premier League.

City are in Champions League action against Olympiacos on Wednesday, looking to advance to the last 16 with a fourth straight victory.

As well as delivering another result on the European stage, though, Guardiola recognises the match is important to "recover our feelings" after another painful outing in the Premier League.

City went down 2-0 at early leaders Tottenham on Saturday and now lie 13th in the table, already eight points off the pace with a game in hand to play.

A return of 12 points from eight games is City's worst start to a league season since 2008-09 (10 points), while their failings in attack are particularly concerning, netting just 10 times - a low since scoring six times in eight matches in 2006-07.

Guardiola is confident his side will turn their fortunes around, though, explaining: "I had a feeling we would do really well this season. I don't know why [we haven't].

"From the beginning, I expected a reaction after how we finished the last season against Lyon in Portugal. I have a good feeling.

"We know what we have to do. We are a team who last season scored a lot and now we are struggling.

"I have to find a solution, to find the right way to attack more fluently and have the feeling that we can score goals. But in the way we play, I'm quite good, quite happy.

"There are little details still we have to improve, conceding penalties that are unnecessary, sometimes we miss clear chances we have to score.

"But the moment will break. In one or two games, this kind of thing will get better. The season is still so young and I'm fully optimistic we're going to do a good season."

Guardiola is also willing to stay patient with record goalscorer Sergio Aguero, who watched on from the bench at Spurs as City had 22 shots without finding the net.

Aguero suffered a knee injury in June and has played just 110 minutes in the league so far this season, attempting a single shot that failed to hit the target.

"We want him to come back," Guardiola said. "Today he trained again. That he can recover a good feeling in his knee is the most important thing.

"I know it is not easy [being] injured but we wait for him and it's a step at a time.

"We still have many, many games this season to play and we will need him. We want him to recover and be back in the best condition."

In the meantime, new signing Ferran Torres has taken on a striking role, still waiting on his first Premier League goal but scoring three times in three matches in the Champions League.

Another goal against Olympiacos would make him just the third City player - after Aguero and Raheem Sterling - to net in four straight games in the competition.

Torres said of his responsibility to the team: "Obviously we have had a few injuries of our strikers in the squad.

"But I think we are scoring goals as a team - probably not as many as we would like but we are also facing difficult opponents as well, so it's difficult.

"We are working hard as a team to sort that out and I am confident that the goals will arrive.

"Playing as a striker is not my natural position but I feel very comfortable playing there. I am also scoring goals so it is good.

"When you work hard and make sacrifices for the team, you get your rewards, so I am trying to work hard to keep scoring goals."

Jurgen Klopp praised Roberto Firmino for a "super game" after Liverpool's 3-0 win over Leicester City in the Premier League.

Firmino headed in the sealer at Anfield on Sunday as Liverpool extended their unbeaten league run at home to a club record 64 games.

Often criticised, Firmino scored his second goal of the season and the Brazilian's 48 passes, 41 successful passes and six shots were the most he has managed in any Premier League game this campaign.

Klopp hailed the forward and said he was pleased to see the 29-year-old also get on the scoresheet, heading in James Milner's 86th-minute corner.

"We were really happy and relieved. He deserved it so much. He played a super game, he played a super game and was so important for us again," the Liverpool manager told a news conference.

"You could see in the face of all the players when he scored that everybody thought, 'Yes, exactly the right goalscorer'."

Firmino's goal came after Diogo Jota doubled Liverpool's lead following Jonny Evans' 21st-minute own goal.

Klopp was proud of his players for setting a club record with their unbeaten league run at home, but said it was something he would reflect on at another time.

"Look, my problem is that in the moment I spoke so much about football, I have so much to think about how we can play the next game and things like this," he said.

"So, it doesn't feel it. Maybe it's not right but there will be a moment, for sure, in the future when I think back – and hopefully it will be a different number and not only 64.

"It's absolutely incredible, but it's all about the boys. It's really difficult to achieve something like this but when you think about how tight a lot of games were then it doesn't happen just like this. You have to really dig in for that and the boys did that.

"I said it a few times before, we really enjoy playing here. It's our ground, it's our home, everything feels home – even when the people are not here. It doesn't feel right but we have to do it and we are happy that we can play.

"So, what the boys put out there on the pitch performance-wise is absolutely incredible and it's the only reason for the number. Obviously it's pretty tricky and pretty difficult to set records for this incredible club because our fathers or grandfathers, they were obviously pretty good. So having this record now, I'm happy for the players but it doesn't feel like a big moment, to be honest, because we play on Wednesday and that's actually my only concern at the moment."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer backed referee David Coote for making "three right decisions" in Manchester United's controversial win over West Brom.

Bruno Fernandes' retaken 56th-minute penalty at Old Trafford proved to be enough for United, who claimed a first home win in the Premier League since July.

Fernandes retook his penalty after West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone saved the first but came off his line, while the visitors thought they had a spot-kick of their own early in the second half, only to see Coote overturn his original decision following a VAR check.

Happy to end a wait for a first home league win this season, United manager Solskjaer also backed Coote's decisions.

"We're delighted to get three points of course, first [home] win in the league this season and a clean sheet, we're happy with that," he told a news conference.

"Very tight calls and I think probably made the two right decisions with the pens, even three right decisions because Sam was off the line."

United are ninth in the Premier League table, seven points behind leaders Tottenham, who have played one more game.

Since the start of last season, 16 per cent of United's Premier League goals have been penalties – 13 of 79 – the highest ratio of any team to have played in both campaigns.

While pleased with the win, Solskjaer said his team's performance was below where he wanted it to be.

"It's definitely not a step forward performance-wise," he said.

"We played really well against Everton last time, that's a performance I was really happy with. This one is way below par, but we got the first win and sometimes three points are more important than the performance, even though we know to get points and to move up the table we have to play better."

Solskjaer added: "We know we can play better than this and we certainly could've made it more comfortable if we'd taken our chances earlier on.

"Towards the end when you don't do that, there's always an edge to the game and we seemed edgy towards the end and it was important for us to get that win of course. You can see that and we never got that composure or quality to get the second goal that would have made it more comfortable."

United continue their Champions League campaign at home to Istanbul Basaksehir on Tuesday.

Zinedine Zidane saw cause for optimism in Real Madrid's draw at Villarreal on Saturday and had little interest in entertaining his critics.

Madrid returned to LaLiga action following the international break without key men Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema.

Looking to respond to a 4-1 defeat at Valencia last time out, the champions looked to have done enough to win as Mariano Diaz - starting for the first time in 18 months - netted after two minutes.

But Gerard Moreno's penalty after a Thibaut Courtois foul kept Madrid in fourth, three points behind early leaders Real Sociedad.

The goals were the only shots on target at either end, although Villarreal had 13 total attempts to Madrid's six. Zidane still felt his team deserved the points.

"I think we deserved more, considering what we did," he said. "Especially in the first half. We've dropped two points.

"I'm upset for the players because of the effort they gave. I felt we could have taken the three points today and that's a shame."

Zidane had acknowledged prior to the match that there was pressure at Madrid, but he defended his hopeful outlook despite another tough result.

"I keep looking forward," he said. "You continue with what you are doing and I with my work."

Other questions focused on three of his players: Mariano, who starred in Benzema's place, Eden Hazard, returning after contracting coronavirus, and Isco, appearing only as a 65th-minute substitute.

Mariano played 85 minutes, more than he had across all league matches combined since the start of last season (54), and scored with his only shot while creating two chances for team-mates.

He won three of his eight duels but could not see out the match, Zidane explained.

"The thing about Mariano is that he hadn't played for a long time," the coach said. "He was exhausted."

Hazard's display was slightly less impressive, failing to attempt a shot or play a key pass in over an hour.

"He's there. He played," Zidane said. "We need to manage the minutes well, but he's with us and he's good."

Isco likewise had no say in proceedings in an attacking sense and has still made only three LaLiga starts this term as he is linked with a January departure.

"What is happening inside will stay inside," his coach said. "Right now, Isco is a Real Madrid player and is with us. There's nothing to talk about."

Mikel Arteta ensured there will be consequences when he finds out how details of an altercation between Arsenal team-mates David Luiz and Dani Ceballos ended up in the media.

The Athletic reported on Thursday that David Luiz hit Ceballos on the nose and drew blood with a scratch after taking objection to a tackle from the midfielder in a training session during the international break.

Arteta insisted the incident has been dealt with and there is no problem between the players, though he claimed not to have got a good view of what happened.

While the Gunners boss was willing to chalk it up as a typical occurrence during a competitive training session, he will not be as forgiving with whoever leaked the information to the media.

"I don't like that at all, and I will find out where it's coming from," said Arteta.

"If that's the case, that goes completely against what I expect from everyone, the privacy and the confidentiality we need. There will be consequences, yes."

Ceballos was also involved in a confrontation with team-mate Eddie Nketiah prior to the opening game of the Premier League season at Fulham.

Asked if it is just a coincidence that the Spaniard was involved on both occasions, Arteta replied: "Whether or not it's a coincidence doesn't change much.

"It's just the competitive level that we demand and the standards we want to set, but obviously there's a very thin line where it is a competitive issue and when it goes somewhere else that we don't support and we don't want.

"It's a contact sport. Incidents are going to happen. It's how you resolve them within the team and within the individuals afterwards and how you move on from there [that matters]."

Arsenal will attempt to recover from a chastening 3-0 loss to Aston Villa prior to the international break when they head to Leeds United on Sunday.

Arteta has warned his players that they will need to correct the issues that cropped up in that game or they could find themselves being handed a similar defeat.

"These things are to learn from and be part of the process we are in, and to try to improve them as quick as possible," said Arteta.

"They happened for a reason. It's not a coincidence or a surprise, they happened for a reason and we need to know when we don't do certain things they will happen again. It's not just a one-off, so we'd better not make the same mistakes again."

He added: "When I lose a football game it takes me a week to go through it, so I need another game. And when we lose the way we lost against Villa it's even harder because it makes me think about things I hated and I don't want to see again.

"There are a lot of things to change, to improve. It's going to be a bumpy road, but the optimism that I have, the belief that I have in where we are going to get, how lucky I feel with the people I have around me who support what I'm trying to do, is great.

"What I miss big time is our fans, because to build something I want with that chemistry and energy without the fans is becoming extremely difficult, because the fans and players need to see they are getting that synergy between them."

Whoever is left to line up for Liverpool on Sunday, they will have the chance to set a new club record against Leicester City.

The Reds have not lost at home in the Premier League since April 23, 2017. Back then, Donald Trump was settling into life as the 45th president of the United States, Brexit negotiations were still weeks away from formally opening and Antonio Conte's Chelsea were running away in the title race.

While much has changed since then, Liverpool being unbeaten at home in top-flight action has remained a constant. The current stretch of 63 games without defeat matches a club record, set between February 1978 and December 1980. Now they want to take the record outright.

A Crystal Palace team inspired by ex-Reds striker Christian Benteke were the last visitors to prevail at Anfield in the league. Joel Matip played that day, while Trent Alexander-Arnold came on as a late substitute and Joe Gomez was unused off the bench.

This weekend, though, Matip is set to be the only one of that defensive trio in action; Alexander-Arnold was injured in the 1-1 draw at Manchester City, while Gomez has joined fellow centre-back Virgil van Dijk as a long-term absentee.

With Mohamed Salah testing positive for COVID-19 while on duty with Egypt, the depleted champions appear more vulnerable than ever. Leicester – the club who ended Liverpool's long unbeaten run 40 years ago – have every reason to fancy their chances.

 

A familiar face returns to Anfield

To add a little extra narrative, Brendan Rodgers has the chance to scupper his former club's quest to set a record.

Leicester spent the November international break sitting pretty at the Premier League summit, their total of 18 points after eight games three more than they managed at the same stage of a 2015-16 campaign that ended with Claudio Ranieri's squad defying pre-season odds of 5,000-1 to be crowned champions. Could history be repeated in this craziest of crazy seasons?

Rodgers has admittedly struggled against the 'big six' since taking charge, winning just five of 17 games. However, two of those successes have come on the road in recent months, as his Foxes spectacularly dismantled Manchester City 5-2 before sucker-punching Arsenal in a 1-0 triumph in north London.

The scorelines were vastly different, yet the Leicester blueprint was similar – defend deep, press at the appropriate moments and, when a turnover comes, capitalise on the open spaces to strike. Playing possum is paying off spectacularly.

Against City, they had just 28.3 per cent possession but scored five goals from seven attempts, allowing Pep Guardiola's side to keep the ball yet still posing the greater threat as they waited to counter. The same happened at Leeds United too, Marcelo Bielsa's side dominating the ball but falling into well-set pressing traps, like bugs simply unable to resist the oncoming car lights.

"It's the evolution. You need to have more than one way to play in the modern game," Rodgers told Sky Sports after the 4-1 triumph at Elland Road. "My teams will always look to dominate and control where we can, but you can also control the game without the ball, especially against teams who have big, big quality."

Rodgers now has the chance to steer Leicester to victory in their first five away fixtures in a league season for the first time. All he has to do is plot the downfall of Liverpool, where he came so close to winning the league in 2014.

To borrow a phrase from opposite number Jurgen Klopp, a few more should turn from doubters to believers if the early pacesetters prevail on Merseyside.

 

Vardy to have a party against depleted defence?

With Jamie Vardy in your side, there is always a chance of grabbing a goal - no matter how little possession you have.

The striker – a pivotal part of Ranieri's title-winning group – keeps on churning out the goals. He has eight already this term, including five successful penalties. He has won four of those spot-kicks while Leicester have had nine overall, the highest number in the top five leagues in Europe.

Stretching back into the previous campaign, nine of Vardy's previous 10 league goals have come in away outings. He seemingly relishes upsetting the perceived hierarchy; since his debut top-flight season in 2014-15, the 33-year-old has scored more goals (38) against the 'big six' sides than any other player in the division.

Liverpool have suffered against him previously – only Andy Cole (11) and Thierry Henry (8) have managed more than Vardy's total seven against the Reds in the competition - while Vardy should be well-rested now his England career is in the rearview mirror.

Leicester's threat will be a constant throughout proceedings, no matter how much control Liverpool exert. Vardy has a 50 per cent conversion rate through eight games and averages a goal every 70 minutes.

His total for the campaign could easily be higher too, had he not been substituted by the time his team were awarded late penalties against City and Leeds. They have developed a nice habit of scoring late, leading the way in the Premier League with seven goals between 76-90 minutes.

 

High lines and taking chances

It is quite possible that Rhys Williams, on loan at National League North side Kidderminster Harriers this time last year, or Nathaniel Phillips, seemingly heading for the Anfield exit not too long ago, could be tasked with playing alongside Matip and making sure Vardy does not add to his tally.

The cracks in the Liverpool back-line that anchored the championship-winning campaign had appeared before the spate of injuries, most notably in a 7-2 loss away to Aston Villa, but Liverpool have not started a Premier League game without one of Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk or Gomez since May 21, 2017.

Worryingly for Klopp, they have kept just one clean sheet in their previous 13 Premier League games, with the propensity to play a high line picked out as a potential reason for the sudden issues.

That tactic was utilised in home wins over Leeds and Arsenal, as well as a 2-0 triumph at Chelsea, according to the Opta numbers for average starting distance from goal. However, they have dropped deeper in more recent outings, including home fixtures against Sheffield United (41.7 metres) and West Ham (43.9m).

Whether this is through necessity or choice is unknown. Still, Liverpool's average starting position for this season sits at 45.7m, a number only topped by Guardiola's City.

Leicester do not rely heavily on high turnovers, as demonstrated by their total of 28 so far, which positions them well inside the bottom half of the table in the statistic. However, they have been clinical when chances do come along. In their four away fixtures, they have hit the target with 24 of 36 attempted shots, boasting a conversion rate of 36 per cent.

On the brink of club history, Liverpool must avoid becoming the latest opponent to be caught out by Rodgers' road warriors if they are to keep the impressive home streak alive.

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