"I am not a magician," said Carlo Ancelotti. "Just a coach who has to give players the confidence they need to express their qualities."

The Real Madrid boss was talking about arguably the standout player from Los Blancos' strong start to the season – and, brilliant as he continues to be, it's not Karim Benzema.

When Ancelotti spoke before Madrid's 2-1 win at Valencia, Vinicius Junior was on a run of four goals in as many games in LaLiga. That tally reached five in five after he fired in a late equaliser at Mestalla – as many goals as he had scored in 59 previous league matches.

For attacking players, nothing builds belief like the support of a coach and regularly sticking the ball in the net. Vinicius has both of those things going for him right now, and it's yielding the best form of his Madrid career.

NEW-MAR

Signed amid much fanfare from Flamengo three years ago, it has taken Vinicius time to fully find his feet in the Spanish capital. Patience is notoriously thin on the ground where Madrid are concerned, but fans have been more willing than usual to play the long game with the Brazil international, who has already played 88 times in Spain's top flight, a tally bettered by just six compatriots in the club's history.

Given Marca ran a headline this week asking whether Vinicius' form in 2021-22 meant Madrid had found "the new Neymar" – a player they once wanted to bring back to Spain, no less – it would appear the wait has been worth it.

Along with five goals, Vinicius has provided two assists and created 10 chances this term, all of them from open play. Only Eden Hazard (12) and Karim Benzema (14) have created more among Madrid's squad. Indeed, among players aged 21 and under, only Erling Haaland (seven goals, three assists) has been directly involved in more goals in 2021-22 in Europe's top five leagues.

After the first six matches of 2020-21, Vinicius had two goals and zero assists, with three chances created for team-mates. Granted, he had spent 52 fewer minutes on the pitch in those six games than he has this season, but he has undeniably made better use of the time given to him of late.

In the first six games of 2021-22, Vinicius' 17 shots have come amid a 2.64 expected goals (xG) total, but they account for 4.36 expected goals on target (xGOT), giving some indication as to the high quality of his attempts. (The xG metric assesses the quality of chances, and xGOT looks at the player's actual effort at goal.)

By contrast, at the same stage of last season, he had xG of 2.58 but xGOT of just 1.49 from 13 shots.

KYLIAN (IN THE NAME OF)

A strong indicator of Vinicius' form, his willingness to stand up in matches and why those Neymar comparisons are a little closer to the mark than they once were, is the upturn in his impact when running with the ball.

After six games in LaLiga last term, he had completed only five of 17 attempted take-ons. That success rate of 29.4 per cent was the lowest of any Madrid player to complete at least one dribble.

This season, that success rate has jumped to 47.6 per cent, Vinicius having completed 20 of 42 attempted take-ons. These are identical figures to one Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain – another Madrid transfer target.

Not only that, but 42 attempted take-ons is the most by any player in LaLiga in 2021-22, while Vinicius also ranks highest for take-ons in the box (eight) and those ending with a shot (four), and joint-highest for drives into the penalty area (also four).

HEARTBEAT

Vinicius is also averaging 62 touches of the ball per 90 minutes, an increase from 57 at this stage of the season in 2020-21. It follows that he is more heavily involved in the action at the top end of the pitch: he has had 36 involvements in shot-ending sequences in LaLiga, a figure bettered only by Real Betis' Nabil Fekir (38) and Madrid's own Benzema (51). On average, his tally has jumped from just over three per game in 2020-21 to more than seven in 2021-22. And, of those sequences this season, 10 have ended in a goal – only Benzema (14) can do better.

This is a player embracing responsibility, demanding the ball, and dazzling when he gets it: in short, he's showing all the best qualities of Neymar, Mbappe or anyone else Madrid may wish to buy, and offering fans everything they hoped for when he first arrived for €46million in 2018.

Perhaps competition is bringing the best out of Vinicius: with Gareth Bale back at the Santiago Bernabeu (although presently injured), Eden Hazard showing more encouraging signs and Marco Asensio fully fit again, there is no shortage of options for the Benzema support act. Or maybe Ancelotti really does have the magic touch to keep Vinicius in vibrant form for a whole season, beyond the fleeting glimpses displayed under Zinedine Zidane.

Whatever the reason, Vinicius has never looked so dangerous in a Madrid shirt. Worryingly for his opponents, there could be plenty more to come.

The St Louis Cardinals continued their remarkable run of form, matching a franchise record amid the team's 14-game unbeaten streak in MLB.

On Friday, the streaking Cardinals swept their doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs 8-5 and 14-2 to equal St Louis' record for most consecutive victories, set in 1935.

St Louis reinforced their hold on the second National League (NL) Wild Card spot after improving to 85-69 this season.

Tyler O'Neill homered twice in the day, including a three-run shot with the Cards leading 3-2 in the second inning of the later game.

Lars Nootbaar hit two of the five homers in the evening game, helping the Cardinals complete the Cubs sweep.

"I've said it since even the offseason, day one of Spring Training and at any point in time I get the opportunity to talk about this group," said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. "It's a special group."

Yankees move clear of Jays in Wild Card race, Franco extends streak

The New York Yankees claimed a critical win in the American League (AL) Wild Card battle, defeating rivals the Boston Red Sox 8-3 after plundering seven runs in the opening three innings. Giancarlo Stanton delivered a flat three-run homer in the third inning as part of his four-RBI performance which underlined the Yankees' win over the AL Wild Card leaders.

The Yankees – enjoying a four-game winning streak – enhanced their playoff hopes after the Toronto Blue Jays went down 3-1 to the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Jays are 85-69, level with the red-hot Seattle Mariners and two games adrift of the Yankees (86-67) in the race for the second AL Wild Card berth.

Tampa Bay Rays rookie Wander Franco returned and continued his historic 40-game on-base streak as the AL East leaders blanked the Miami Marlins 8-0. Reinstated from the 10-day injured list, Franco's streak is the second longest in AL-NL history by a player aged 20 or younger, only three games short of the all-time record set by Frank Robinson in 1956. Franco also broke a tie with Johnny Damon (2011) for the second longest overall on-base streak in franchise history.

A.J. Pollock took a super catch on the fence and hit a two-run home run as World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers won 4-2 over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Fernando Tatis Jr. hit his 41st home run of the season with a game-winning shot in the San Diego Padres' 6-5 triumph against the Atlanta Braves. The Braves would win the second game 4-0 with Max Fried sending down his second career shutout.

 

A's hammer Astros bullpen

The Houston Astros' bullpen had a difficult day in their 14-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics. With Zack Greinke on the IL, Brandon Bielak started but lasted three innings, allowing four hits and three runs. But the real damage came late, with Yimi Garcia, Brooks Raley and Seth Martinez copping the brunt as the A's piled on 11 runs in the seventh and eighth innings.

 

Giants reach rare century

The San Francisco Giants became the first time to reach 100 wins this season, eclipsing the Colorado Rockies 7-2 to improve their record to 100-54. It marks the first time since 2003 the high-flying Giants have reached triple figures in the win column, and eighth time in franchise history. Brandon Belt and Mike Yastrzemski also became the first pair of Giants team-mates with 25-plus home runs in a season since 2006.

Post the 100 win graphic pic.twitter.com/p7sEyoHzpj

— SFGiants (@SFGiants) September 25, 2021

 

 

Friday's results

St Louis Cardinals 8-5 Chicago Cubs
Texas Rangers 8-5 Baltimore Orioles
Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 Pittsburgh Pirates 
Cincinnati Reds 8-7 Washington Nationals
Tampa Bay Rays 8-0 Miami Marlins
New York Yankees 8-3 Boston Red Sox
San Diego Padres 6-5 Atlanta Braves 4-0
Kansas City Royals 3-1 Detroit Tigers
Chicago White Sox 1-0 Cleveland Indians
St Louis Cardinals 12-4 Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers 5-1 New York Mets
San Francisco Giants 7-2 Colorado Rockies
Minnesota Twins 3-1 Toronto Blue Jays
Seattle Mariners 6-5 Los Angeles Angels
Oakland Athletics 14-2 Houston Astros
Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 Arizona Diamondbacks
Atlanta Braves 4-0 San Diego Padres

 

Yankees at Red Sox

On Saturday, the Red Sox and the Yankees will meet again in their crucial AL series which will go a long way towards determining Wild Card spots. Nick Pivetta is set to start for the Red Sox, while the Yankees will likely counter with Nestor Cortes.

Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini scoffed at the lack of patience afforded to the Bianconeri following their slow start to the Serie A season under new head coach Massimiliano Allegri.

After opening their 2021-22 Serie A campaign without a win in four matches, Juve finally opened their account by edging Spezia 3-2 midweek, moving the Italian giants out of the relegation zone.

Juve have just five points from five games to start the season under Allegri, who returned to Turin to replace Andrea Pirlo after being dethroned by rivals Inter last term.

In a period of change following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit, veteran Juve defender Chiellini bemoaned the impatience.

"We must be able to keep the ship steady in a stormy sea," Italy international Chiellini told Sky Sport Italia ahead of Sunday's match against Sampdoria.

"We'll see if we'll come out of it a little dented or with full sails, but we will arrive at the port.

"As with everything, it takes time to find a balance. When there are big shocks, environmental like an earthquake or not, it takes a little time to settle and to restart.

"Unfortunately, in the world of today, there's no patience."

Juve have gained a point from their two home games this term and last went three home fixtures without a victory at the start of the 2015-16 season, also under Allegri.

Chiellini and Juventus, who have allowed eight goals in five league games this campaign, have conceded a goal in each of their last 19 Serie A contests. Only in 1955 have they had a longer run without a clean sheet in the league (21).

The visit of Sampdoria will be Allegri's 400th game in charge in Serie A – the Juve boss has claimed 243 wins in the competition, at least 59 more than any other coach since his debut in Italy's top flight in 2008-09.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt said the door is open for him to face the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 of the NFL season.

Watt is listed as questionable for Sunday's clash after injuring his groin in last week's 26-17 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

But the three-time Pro Bowler is hopeful of suiting up at home to the Bengals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

"Doesn't matter how many reps I get throughout the week," Steelers star Watt said on Friday. "I was able to still run around here and do a lot of things that I need to do to keep the door open for Sunday.

"I'm excited to get the rest of today and tomorrow to continue to improve my body and see where I'm at on Sunday.

"... This isn't going around and playing Pee Wee football. This is playing against guys doing this for a living, so trying to be smart.

"At the same time, knowing your body more than anything. I felt like I did a good amount this week to leave the door open for Sunday."

Cincinnati ended a 10-game losing streak to Pittsburgh when the Bengals (1-1) beat the Steelers (1-1) 27-17 in Week 15 of last season.

In the all-time series, the Steelers have 65 wins in their 101 games against the Bengals, which is the most wins by any team against Cincinnati.

The Steelers, meanwhile, were held to 39 yards rushing in their loss to the Raiders, bringing the team's season rushing total to a league-worst 114 rushing yards.

Since Mike Tomlin became head coach in 2007, Pittsburgh have been held to under 40 yards rushing in 20 different games with only the Arizona Cardinals having more such games in that span (22).

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Red Devils superstar Cristiano Ronaldo can play football into his 40s.

Ronaldo returned to Premier League giants United before the transfer window closed and the evergreen 36-year-old has scored four goals in his first three matches back at the club.

As Ronaldo continues to defy his age, Solskjaer does not anticipate the five-time Ballon d'Or winner slowing down any time soon.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he was still playing at 40, not at all," Solskjaer told reporters ahead of Saturday's clash with Aston Villa.

"The way he looks after himself, that's the key, that's the key to it all and, of course, some genes. There must be some genes in there! He has put every single ounce of energy and effort into becoming the player he is.

"He deserves every single plaudit that he gets for first, his own physical state but, even more impressively, when you have achieved as much as he has. He is still just as hungry as ever.

"His mentality is still absolutely spot on and that's just desire from inside of him and he's going to keep going until his legs or even his head say no that's it, I've given everything now."

United – level with Chelsea and Liverpool atop the Premier League – have won 18 of their last 21 home league games against Villa (D2 L1), failing to score on just one occasion in that run.

In Premier League history, no side has won more games against an opponent than United's 37 victories against Villa.

Since a goalless draw with Manchester City last December, United have scored in each of their last 15 Premier League home games (44 goals in total). However, Solskjaer's men have also conceded in each of their last seven league games at Old Trafford, last having a longer top-flight home run without a clean sheet in February 1972 (8 games).

United are the highest scorers in the Premier League so far this season with 13 goals. With an expected goals total of eight, the Manchester outfit are also overperforming their xG more than any other side this season (five goals more).

The United States snatched their biggest opening-day lead at a Ryder Cup since 1975 as they powered 6-2 ahead of Europe at Whistling Straits.

All of Europe's worst fears were realised on Friday as the cup holders left themselves with everything to do over the weekend.

Rory McIlroy, rather than proving a talisman, suffered two heavy defeats, with world number one Jon Rahm's excellence not enough to prevent a landslide as Steve Stricker's American team dominated.

Rahm and Sergio Garcia put the first point of the day on the board, beating Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, but the home side bossed the rest of the morning foursomes to seize a 3-1 lead. Two more wins in the afternoon, and two halved matches, meant another 3-1 session for the USA, who will now look to assure themselves of a big lead heading into Sunday's singles.

There were shots that caught the eye, including an astonishing chip up a steep bank from Spieth in the morning and a 417-yard bomb from Bryson DeChambeau in the afternoon fourballs.

But it was consistent quality from the US team that put them in such a commanding position, with Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele both winning twice, including as a pair in the fourballs.

Johnson said: "Today was a great day for both me and Xander, and we both won our matches in the morning and this afternoon. Couldn't have been any better."

Patrick Cantlay, the PGA Tour Player of the Year, played with Schauffele in the morning as they trounced McIlroy and Ian Poulter 5 and 3, and he was then part of the last match of the afternoon, as he and Thomas came from three behind to halve against Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood.

"For sure I was feeding off JT a little bit, he was carrying me around all day today, he played great," Cantlay said. "Three and one in both sessions, that's a great start. Hopefully we can keep the pedal down and keep doing more of the same."

Europe's fortunes were summed up when Fleetwood hooked his tee shot at 16 into Lake Michigan, with Thomas holing a silky eagle putt to win that hole.

There was a huge boost for Europe, however, when Tyrrell Hatton holed a clutch putt at 18, winning the hole as he and Rahm snatched a half point against Scottie Scheffler and DeChambeau.

Rahm said: "I'm not going to lie: when I hit my bunker shot at 16 and we both had over 15 feet for birdie and they were both within 10 feet, things did look dark, to say the least. Luckily I was able to roll mine in and I told him [Hatton] that we can finish strong and still get this done.

"Not many people are as clutch as he is under pressure and he showed it right here so hopefully this gives him a lot of confidence for tomorrow and we get the ball rolling."


Shot of the day

Spieth conjured up an incredible shot on the 17th after playing partner Thomas had seemingly left him in an impossible position.

Spieth somehow chipped to around four feet away from the pin from the bottom of a steep bank in thick grass beyond railway sleepers. Spieth hurtled down to the edge of the water following his great escape, but his exploits were not enough to prevent Spanish pair Rahm and Garcia claiming the first point of the competition.

The three-time major champion said: "it's kind of one of those shots that you practice as a kid for fun, and you don't ultimately want to have it. And the chances of it going there, you could roll a thousand balls off the green, and it's not going it stay where it was.

"I hit like a 52-degree because a 60 might have gone over the back of my head and just tried to flick it right underneath and hit it as hard as I could, as high as I could."

Player of the day

At his fifth Ryder Cup, Johnson played like he is sick of that losing feeling, having known it three times already. He and Schauffele were a strong pairing in the afternoon, while Johnson guided Collin Morikawa through the morning foursomes. As McIlroy floundered for Europe elsewhere on the course, the US team had a seasoned member of their team step up and lead.

Chipping in

McIlroy: "Xander, Patrick, played wonderful, and Tony – I haven't seen Tony putt as good as that in a long time. When you have got a couple of pairs like that on form, on a difficult golf course where it's sort of hard to make birdies and they go on runs, if you're not quite 100 per cent on top of your game, it's tough. We can come back from 6-2."

Johnson: "Obviously we have a lot of support on our side, and MJ [Michael Jordan] is out there, he's a huge supporter of the Ryder Cup and huge supporter of golf, but it's nice to see him come out and support us."

Tony Finau: "You've just got to enjoy it. All these people out here cheering us on, that's the biggest thing. You have to enjoy it. I learned that in Paris, and the more you can just have fun with it, it seems to keep you loose, and I was able to roll the rock nicely today."

A little birdie told me...

Garcia is Europe's top points-scorer in Ryder Cup history and the Spaniard matched Nick Faldo's record tally of 23 match wins when he and compatriot Rahm drew first blood in the morning session.

Powerhouse  DeChambeau hit an astonishing 417-yard drive on the 581-yard par-five fifth hole, setting up an eagle to put himself and Scheffler one up in their four-ball contest with Rahm and Hatton.

Friday's foursomes results

Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia (Eur) beat Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth (USA) 3 and 1
Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa (USA) beat Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland (Eur) 3 and 2
Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger (USA) beat Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick (Eur) 2 and 1
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (USA) beat Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter (Eur) 5 and 3

Friday's four-ball results

Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele (USA) beat Bernd Wiesberger and Paul Casey (Eur) 2 and 1
Scottie Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau (USA) halved with Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton (Eur)
Harris English and Tony Finau (USA) beat Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry 4 and 3
Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay (USA) halved with Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood (Eur)

The NBA championship-chasing Los Angeles Clippers are unsure when Kawhi Leonard will return from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

Tyronn Lue's Clippers will head into the 2021-22 season without superstar Leonard, who is expected to miss much of the campaign as he recovers from a partially torn ACL in his right knee.

Leonard underwent knee surgery after suffering the serious injury during the 2020-21 playoffs – the Clippers progressed to their first Western Conference Finals before falling to the Phoenix Suns.

Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank fielded questions on two-time NBA champion Leonard on Friday as the team gear up for the new season.

"Oh, we don't even broach that," Frank said when asked if he expects Leonard to play this season.

"I think at this point, it's just no one knows when you're dealing with a recovery from an ACL [injury], the time frame.

"Even just to save you guys [from asking] throughout the year, is no one knows. You just attack it day by day, he has a very detailed plan with a great group and we'll just let his body and the doctors tell us when it's the right time."

A five-time All-Star, Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The Clippers went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the regular season last term, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, the Clippers have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference Finals respectively in the past two seasons.

The third week of the NFL season is not short of enticing matchups.

A divisional showdown between two high-powered AFC West offenses in the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers headlines the early slate of games, while Sunday's primetime matchup sees a rematch of the NFC Championship Game as the Green Bay Packers visit the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers.

Sandwiched in between those fascinating contests is an encounter that most will see as the game of the week, one that could have a pivotal impact on the NFC playoff picture come the end of the season, as Tom Brady plays in Los Angeles for the first time in his professional career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers going out west to take on the Rams.

Beyond being a battle of unbeaten teams, it is an encounter that pits one of the game's most celebrated quarterbacks against one of its most underappreciated, who is thriving in his opening weeks playing for the Rams having been freed from the shackles of a listless Detroit Lions franchise.

Both Brady and Matthew Stafford have started the season as most expected them to, operating at a level to suggest they can propel their respective teams to deep postseason runs.

However, they each will take on defenses stacked with the talent to shut down even the most prolific offenses when at their best. It promises to be a tremendous spectacle at SoFi Stadium, one that should provide an early barometer as to who is the class of the NFC.

Little to separate stellar QBs

Brady is ancient by NFL standards, but his remarkable longevity has turned the fact he continues to excel at age 44 into old news. Nobody is surprised by his continuing brilliance, which sees him lead the league with nine passing touchdowns in two games, four more than Stafford.

Yet a man who has turned performing when the pressure is at its highest in the playoffs into an art is essentially neck and neck with a quarterback yet to taste a postseason victory when it comes to accuracy so far this season.

Stafford has a well-thrown ball percentage of 81.5, putting him just below Brady on 81.7, though it is the former Lion who has the edge when it comes to delivering accurately under pressure.

The Rams' signal-caller ranks fifth among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts under duress this season with a well-thrown percentage of 80 when pressured. Brady has a less impressive ratio of 75 per cent, though that is still well above the average of 69.2 per cent.

Stafford also has a string to his bow that is not a part of Brady's arsenal, as he has settled superbly into Sean McVay's offense and quickly adapted to an attack that consistently relies on the play-action bootleg.

On his nine throws where he has been on the move, Stafford has produced a well-thrown ball 88.9 per cent of the time, compared to 75 per cent on four such attempts for Brady.

That difference reflects the contrasts in offensive approach, but the opportunity to get on the move and outside of the pocket gives Stafford a potentially pivotal avenue to avoid an often ferocious Buccaneers defensive front.

Compelling cases for the defense

Stafford may find encouragement in that a Buccaneers pass rush that pressured Patrick Mahomes 33 times in their Super Bowl win last season has been, for the most part, held in check through two weeks.

Edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, who led the Bucs with 13 pressures of Mahomes, has won just 11 of his 44 pass rush attempts so far, according to Stats Perform data. Things have gone even worse for veteran Jason Pierre-Paul with a solitary win on 34 attempts.

Pierre-Paul's struggles may mean more of rookie Joe Tryon, who has won four of his 12 rushes, but Tampa can at least be fairly confident of pressuring Stafford up the middle, with defensive tackle Vita Vea prevailing on nine of his 25 attempts.

Despite the lack of pressure, Stafford – who has thrown an interceptable pass on 3.7 per cent of his attempts – must be wary of a defense that has already produced four turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, with starting cornerbacks Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean each enjoying strong starts to the campaign. Davis has allowed a receiver to get open on five of his 22 coverage matchups, with Dean (6/21) also proving difficult for pass-catchers to separate from.

The primary threats on the Rams' defense are easy to identify.

Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald has won a massive 65.63 per cent of his pass rushes despite being double teamed 19 times.

Meanwhile, on the back end, cornerback Jalen Ramsey has yet to allow an open receiver in 18 coverage matchups, further illustrating his status as one of the league's most dominant cornerbacks.

For the Bucs to prevail, Brady must avoid both.

Stacked supporting casts

For as much as the two defenses each possess the calibre of player to make a quarterback's life misery, both Brady and Stafford have the luxury of extremely strong offensive lines.

Indeed, the Rams have allowed only 16 pressures of Stafford this season, the fewest in the NFL. Tampa Bay's offensive line has given up 10 more, yet that still puts the Buccaneers tied fifth in the league.

And, should the theme of the two O-Lines giving their quarterbacks time continue, Brady and Stafford will have the opportunity to find some excellent pass-catching options.

Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin has recorded a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, 88.9 per cent of the time. That is the most among wide receivers with at least 10 targets. His big-play percentage of 46.7 is third among such wideouts.

Antonio Brown's presence on the reserve/COVID-19 list may see even more targets go to Godwin while tight end Rob Gronkowski should play a featured role with a burn percentage of 84.6 and four touchdowns through two games.

The change from Jared Goff to Stafford has not changed the identity of the two most important receivers for the Rams.

Robert Woods' burn percentage of 76.9 is sixth for wideouts with a minimum of 10 targets, and Cooper Kupp's burn yards per target average of 13.94 is second among receivers who have been targeted at least 20 times.

With two extremely accurate quarterbacks, weapons all over the field and a pair of elite defenses, there is little to choose between two teams that for now appear destined to be playing in January. Home advantage, a Rams offensive line that the numbers suggest is slightly superior to that of Tampa Bay and Stafford's greater mobility tip the scales in Los Angeles' favour on paper. Yet, if there is one player who can redress the balance, it is Brady.

Pep Guardiola admits Manchester City must cope without the "weapon" of a 25-goal clinical striker after being unable to replace Sergio Aguero.

On Saturday, City will face a Chelsea team which has been strengthened by the addition of Romelu Lukaku from Serie A champions Inter, for a shade under £100million.

For much of the transfer window, City were expected to sign Harry Kane from Tottenham, but that failed to come to fruition and they are instead looking for a squad-wide contribution to the goals account.

The Stamford Bridge test will give an indication of how well City can compete against fellow elite teams as they bid to retain the Premier League title.

With Champions League holders Chelsea adding Lukaku, Manchester United beating City to a deal for Cristiano Ronaldo, and Kane staying at Spurs, there are major clubs in England that have obvious focal points in attack.

Guardiola declared strikers to be unique in their sensibilities, saying: "They live outside of the bubble a team creates.

"They say, 'I am here to win the game'. We had privilege to have Sergio. These are the hardest players to take."

Aguero suffered with injuries during the closing stages of his 10-year City career, before leaving for LaLiga powerhouse Barcelona, and manager Guardiola found ways to cope without the leader of his attack, notably opting at times for a 'false nine', meaning his team was often stacked with attacking players but had no natural spearhead.

"We don't have this weapon like other teams have, like [Manchester] United, Chelsea or Tottenham. We have to use what we have as a team," Guardiola said.

"We don't have a player who scored 25 goals himself. We do it as a group and that is what we will try this season."

Guardiola has previously confirmed he would have liked to sign Kane, if he became available.

He reflected on his career as a coach and manager, pointing to always having had identifiable leaders and prolific scorers in his forward lines. Although Gabriel Jesus remains at City, Guardiola considers him a slightly different front player to a central striker.

"Always I had a striker in my career," said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.

"Like goalkeepers, strikers are the biggest specialists. I played with Samuel Eto'o [at Barcelona], maybe the best or one of the best strikers I ever trained. And [Thierry] Henry [at Barcelona].

"I don't know if he's a striker or what he is, but Lionel Messi was able to score a few goals. There was [Robert] Lewandowski, Thomas Muller [at Bayern Munich], Sergio here.

"Always I play with a striker. Gabriel [Jesus] likes to play more in lateral ways than central. We want it as a club because I think the club knows, not for me, that it needs a striker in the next years."

Guardiola still believes City are a formidable prospect, and the Chelsea game followed by next week's clash with Paris Saint-Germain are tantalising prospects.

"When our squad is fit – all of them – I know what we can do because I have seen it in previous years," he said.

"It is a privilege to go to London and play there and then Paris. You will not hear me one single second complain about this season or about the players I have."

City have won three of their last six Premier League away games against Chelsea (L3), more than they had in their previous 23 visits to Stamford Bridge in the top flight (W2 D8 L13). Guardiola's side are looking to win back-to-back away top-flight games against Chelsea for the first time since January 1955.

In his managerial career, Guardiola has lost more games against Chelsea than he has versus any other opponent in all competitions (eight). Indeed, the Blues could become the first team to win four consecutive matches against the Spaniard.

Joshua Kimmich warned "hungry" Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich still have room for improvement after they beat Greuther Furth 3-1 despite Benjamin Pavard's red card.

Robert Lewandowski's long goalscoring streak ended at 15 consecutive Bundesliga games - one short of Gerd Muller's record - but the champions moved three points clear of Wolfsburg.

That is now 40 goals in their past eight matches for ruthless Bayern, who led 2-0 courtesy of great finishes from Thomas Muller and Kimmich at half-time.

Pavard was given his marching orders for a professional foul on Jeremy Dudziak early in the second half, but a Sebastian Griesbeck own goal extended their lead.

Cedric Itten's header in the closing stages was too little, too late for bottom side Furth in the Bavarian derby at Sportpark Ronhof on Friday.

Bayern have won eight consecutive matches in a great start to Julian Nagelsmann's reign and midfielder Kimmich says there is more to come.

 

The Germany international told DAZN: "The character of the team is great. We have players who want to develop, who are hungry.

"We want to win every game. We're in good form at the moment, but we haven't been able to manage all of the games this season with confidence. There's room for improvement."

Kimmich, who delivered the free-kick that was turned into his own net by Griesbeck, added: "It wasn't exactly a brilliant performance on our part, but we had the game under control even when we played with 10.

"We made mistakes in the first half, and we kept inviting Furth via set-pieces."

The Kansas City Chiefs aren't ones for panic, certainly not in the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes era. Even in the most trying of situations, facing third and long and trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter of their Super Bowl LIV triumph in the 2019 season, Reid and Mahomes kept their cool, the latter unfurling a 44-yard bomb to Tyreek Hill that turned the contest on its head.

While their high-powered offense has no reason to be anything other than coolness personified, with 61 points scored through the first two weeks, there might be some cause for desperation on the defensive side of the ball.

Steve Spagnuolo's defense is the eighth-worst in the league in terms of offensive points allowed (58). No defense is allowing more yards per play (7.56) than that of Kansas City, the Chiefs conceding 9.37 yards per pass (31st) and 6.03 yards per rush (last) after being gashed on the ground in their thrilling Week 2 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens.

In other words, through two weeks, the Chiefs are not stopping anybody, whether that be a ball-carrier or a passer, and that is a significant issue heading into a matchup with a signal-caller who has only furthered his case for a place among the elite so far this season.

Los Angeles Chargers star Justin Herbert, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, is fourth in the NFL with 337.5 passing yards per game, producing a pair of hugely impressive performances to start the season.

Missed opportunities, including a pair of Herbert interceptions, doomed the Chargers to a last-gasp defeat to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. Save for those picks, though, it was a display in which the former sixth overall selection continued to demonstrate his ability to make deadly accurate throws on passes of the highest difficulty.

And the numbers suggest the Chiefs will not have many avenues through which to disrupt him.

The Chiefs pass rush has endured an unproductive start to the season, registering only 20 pressures, third-lowest in the NFL, so far this term.

Star defensive lineman Chris Jones has played the majority of his snaps on the edge this season, having spent most of his career on the interior, and the switch has not yielded the desired results.

He has won just six of his 21 pass rushes this season, while Frank Clark has got the better of his pass protector only once in 17 attempts.

Jones and Clark have the talent to drastically improve those numbers. However, even if they manage to pressure Herbert, it may not lead to opportunities to create negative plays.

When pressured, Herbert, according to Stats Perform data, delivers an accurate well-thrown ball 88.2 per cent of the time, first among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts under duress.

One area where the Chiefs defense has excelled is in creating turnovers. Kansas City have four to their name already, including three interceptions.

But those takeaways have not helped Kansas City keep opposing offenses in check, Baltimore prevailing in primetime despite a pair of picks for Lamar Jackson.

Their vulnerability against the run makes the Chiefs defense an enticing opponent for Chargers running back Austin Ekeler. His average of 2.83 yards after contact per attempt is second among backs with at least 10 carries, and all the signs point to another long day for Kansas City on that side of the ball.

There are, of course, changes that can be made to aid their cause. Shifting Jones back inside could up his production, while giving both him and Clark opportunities to rush against Storm Norton, who has allowed a pressure rate of 14.2 per cent in relief of the injured Bryan Bulaga at right tackle, may be a route towards Kansas City disrupting Herbert more often than they have opposing quarterbacks so far this year.

Yet the Chiefs need to not only disrupt Herbert but to affect his throws. Mahomes' ability to put up points can keep the Chiefs in any game; however, if they cannot find a way to impact Herbert or take away the run, Kansas City risk a shootout with a team that can go blow for blow with them and a potential 1-2 start that seemed unthinkable when they led the Ravens by 11 points last week.

It's only Week 3 but, for a Super Bowl favourite, the pressure is on a team that has struggled to generate it.

Robert Lewandowski's scoring streak ended and Benjamin Pavard was sent off, but Bayern Munich still cruised to a 3-1 victory over Greuther Furth in the Bundesliga.

In a Bavarian derby battle between top and bottom on Friday, Bayern were in control at half-time following goals from Thomas Muller and Joshua Kimmich at Sportpark Ronhof.

There was hope for Furth when France full-back Pavard was shown a straight red card early in the second half for a professional foul on Jeremy Dudziak.

The champions remained a class apart from their newly-promoted opponents despite Pavard's dismissal and a Sebastian Griesbeck own goal increased their advantage, with a late Cedric Itten header no more than a consolation for the home side.

Lewandowski was unable to match Gerd Muller's record of scoring in 16 consecutive Bundesliga games, but Julian Nagelsmann's moved three points clear at the summit.

Bayern wasted no time in stamping their authority on the game, with Leon Goretzka's early long-range drive flashing just wide.

The champions were in front in the 10th minute, when Thomas Muller finished clinically with his left foot after Maximilian Bauer could only divert Alphonso Davies's cross into his path.

Furth were unable to live with Bayern and Kimmich doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark with a measured right-footed strike from 25 yards out after Leroy Sane laid the ball back to him.

Lewandowski flicked Kimmich's corner against the crossbar as Bayern dominated, but they were a man down when Pavard was given his marching orders for upending Dudziak three minutes into the second half.

Bayern continued to pose a major threat despite their numerical disadvantage, Sascha Burchert getting down to keep out Lewandowski's first-time shot.

Nagelsmann was shown a yellow card for dissent before Kimmich's free-kick was turned into his own net by Griesbeck, under pressure from Lewandowski.

Itten nodded in Timothy Tillman's inviting cross with a couple of minutes remaining, but the points were in the bag by then for Bayern.

Dwayne Bravo and Ruturaj Gaikwad starred as Chennai Super Kings returned to the top of the Indian Premier League with a six-wicket defeat of Royal Challengers Bangalore.

RCB slumped to a nine-wicket loss at the hands of Kolkata Knight Riders after they were bowled out for only 92 on Monday in their first game since the tournament resumed.

They looked set to post an imposing total at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Friday after Devdutt Padikkal (70 off 50 balls) and captain Virat Kohli (53 from 41) put on 111 for the first wicket, but could only finish with 156-6.

Bravo (3-24) and Shardul Thakur (2-29) put the brakes on as Kohli's third-placed side lost their way after the start had been delayed due to a sandstorm.

An opening stand of 71 from 8.2 overs between the in-form Gaikwad (38 off 26) and Faf du Plessis (31 from 26) set CSK on their way to a seventh win in nine matches.

Ambati Rayudu (32) and Moeen Ali (23) also chipped in before vastly experienced duo Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni got the Super Kings home with 11 balls to spare, moving them above Delhi Capitals on net run-rate.

 

OPENERS LAY RCB FOUNDATIONS

The dangerous Padikkal and Kohli got RCB off to a great start after they were put in by MS Dhoni, taking 55 off the powerplay.

Padikkal was the first to raise his bat, bringing up his sixth IPL half-century by dispatching Deepak Chahar for four, and Kohli struck Ravindra Jadeja to the boundary to reach his fifty soon after.

RCB lost their way after Kohli was removed by Bravo in the 14th over, with Padikkal - who struck three sixes - falling straight after Shardul Thakur got rid of AB de Villiers in the South Africa legend's 150th match for just 12.

 

GAIKWAD IN GREAT NICK

Gaikwad made a brilliant unbeaten 88 in CSK's victory over defending champions Mumbai Indians and the opener maintained his form five days later.

The 24-year-old and Du Plessis got the Super Kings ahead of the rate in a great start to the run chase, the South Africa batsman clearing the ropes twice and Gaikwad hitting one six.

Both batsman fell in consecutive overs, but CSK kept wickets in hand and stayed ahead of the rate, with Raina and Dhoni finished off the job.

Carlo Ancelotti is taking no enjoyment from bitter rivals Barcelona's ongoing struggles as he backed Real Madrid to continue improving.

Barca have managed just two wins from their opening five LaLiga games of the season and were beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week.

The pressure is mounting on head coach Ronald Koeman following Thursday's stalemate with Cadiz, a result that leaves the Catalan giants down in seventh place.

LaLiga leaders Madrid are already seven points better off than Barca, albeit having played a game more, but Ancelotti is only concerned about his own side's performances.

"I'm not happy if a team has a bad time," he said at Friday's news conference previewing Madrid's home match with Villarreal on Saturday. 

"I focus only on my team. If things don't go well for another team, be it Barca or another, It doesn't make me happy."

 

Madrid's thumping 6-1 win over Real Mallorca on Wednesday moved them two points clear of reigning champions Atletico Madrid at the summit ahead of the visit of Villarreal.

Los Blancos are now unbeaten in 24 league games, which is their longest such run since going 28 without defeat between March 2016 and January 2017.

Marco Asensio scored a hat-trick against his former side in that most recent match, while Karim Benzema claimed a double and provided two assists.

Benzema has now been directly involved in 15 LaLiga goals this season, surpassing former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (14) for the most of any player in the Spanish top flight this century after six games.

The France international turns 34 in December, but Ancelotti feels the prolific striker is only getting better with age.

Asked if Benzema is a contender for the Ballon d'Or award, Ancelotti said: "Because of what he's doing and has done, he has to be on the shortlist.

"But Karim still has time to win it. This will not be his last season. He's like wine – it gets better with time."

Thanks to the form of Benzema, Madrid have scored 21 goals after six LaLiga matches – their best tally at this stage since 1987-88 when registering 26 goals.

The capital club have not been as strong defensively, though, with only seven teams in the division having conceded more goals than the eight Madrid have let in.

With that in mind, Ancelotti believes there is still more to come from his side.

"The players are doing well. I have to be honest, we have focused a lot on the defensive side of our game because that needed the most improvement," he said.

"It's difficult to have a high line if there is no pressure on the ball. If there is no pressure we defend with a low block. 

"We'd like to have a line in the centre of the pitch, but it's not always possible.

"I was satisfied with the Mallorca game compared to our previous match against Valencia, but you quickly have to focus on what can be improved."

Ancelotti also revealed Eden Hazard has "trained well" this week but could not guarantee the forward, who was an unused substitute against Mallorca, would feature this weekend.

Madrid have lost just one of their 21 home LaLiga matches against Villarreal, winning 15 of those and drawing the other five.

Villarreal have therefore lost 71.4 per cent of their away matches against Los Blancos, which is their highest percentage against any opponent with at least two games played on the road.

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