Manchester City kept up their 18-match winning run with a 1-0 win at Arsenal on Sunday that maintained their 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

The Gunners have lost each of their most recent eight league games against City and saw the repeat of a familiar problem at Emirates Stadium.

Mason Mount tapped into an established Chelsea tradition in their 1-1 draw at Southampton – a sixth match unbeaten for Blues boss Thomas Tuchel.

However, David Moyes showed imposing records do not last forever as fourth-place West Ham beat Tottenham 2-1.

Here, we take a look at some of the quirks that revealed themselves over the course of the latest Premier League weekend.

City slickers catch sleepy Gunners napping

The scoring at Emirates Stadium started and finished after 75 seconds when Raheem Sterling headed home Riyad Mahrez's cross after 77 seconds.

It was the first time City had scored inside the opening two minutes of a Premier League game since Kevin De Bruyne did so in December 2019 – also at Arsenal.

Indeed, this has become something of a troublesome habit in these meetings for the north London club. When the sides met at the Etihad Stadium in February 2019, Sergio Aguero was on target after 46 seconds.

Sterling's goal is not even the earliest Arsenal have conceded this month, with Ollie Watkins netting for Aston Villa after 75 seconds at Villa Park. Similarly, that was the only goal of the contest.

Dominic Calvert-Lewis broke through 50 seconds in at Arsenal last season, although the hosts came back to beat Everton 3-2 on that occasion.

The quickest time recorded for a goal against Arsenal in the Premier League came when Peter Crouch gave Stoke City a 19th-second lead in December 2014 and set a 3-2 win in motion.

Mount adds to Chelsea penalty count

Mount cancelled out Takumi Minamino's opener – a goal that ended 572 minutes without conceding during Tuchel's fledgling reign – as the spoils were shared at St Mary's.

The England midfielder became the 25th different player to score a Premier League penalty for Chelsea, which gives them more spot-kick scorers than any other team in the competition's history.

Unsurprisingly, Mount's former boss Frank Lampard leads the way with 41 conversions – a sizable distance ahead of Eden Hazard (17) next up on the list.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (12) and Frank Leboeuf (10) each boast double figures, although Chelsea's regular taker Jorginho is seemingly set to join their number as the Italy midfielder has nine penalty goals in the Premier League to date.

The list of players Mount is now alongside perhaps shows how hard it has been to get a go from 12 yards for the Stamford Bridge outfit.

Diego Costa, Andriy Shevchenko, Fernando Torres, Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli are among 11 players to have scored one Premier League penalty for Chelsea.

Moyes bests Mourinho at last

West Ham's hard-earned win at London Stadium was Moyes' first success over Jose Mourinho in 16 encounters between the two former Manchester United bosses across all competitions.

Within that was a 13-match winless run in the Premier League, although there have been worse stretches for managers against fellow tacticians they must have come to dread.

The joint-record stands at 17 games thanks to a surprisingly one-sided streak for Martin O'Neill at the hands of Harry Redknapp, with Steve Bruce's failure to beat Alex Ferguson over the same span of matches perhaps more expected.

Ex-Spurs manager Redknapp certainly knows what such a slump feels like, having gone 15 matches apiece without tasting victory over Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

Ferguson unsurprisingly dominates the list, with Sam Allardyce (15), Alan Curbishley and David O'Leary (14) facing up to grim, fruitless runs when pitted against the all-time great.

Allardyce will hope to emulate Moyes soon enough by getting one over on Mourinho, having chalked up his 13th outing without success against the Portuguese earlier this month. Alan Pardew went the same number of games without beating the now retired Wenger.

Barcelona versus Cadiz is not a fixture that particularly stands out on the Spanish football calendar, but Sunday's meeting between the two is momentous for Lionel Messi.

Having played his 505th LaLiga game for Barcelona last weekend against Deportivo Alaves, Messi has now broken a record set by one of Barcelona's most-revered sons.

Xavi retains a legendary status at Camp Nou – his influence during a 17-year career in Barca's senior team was arguably unmatched, as the team was almost constantly built around him as that metronomic hub in midfield.

In the five years since his departure, many midfielders have been signed in the hope they can pick up the slack left behind, but none have successfully replaced him.

He may yet return as coach one day. Indeed, by all accounts it seems he was offered such a chance at least once last year.

But while the legacy of his playing days will remain unblemished, he has lost a slice of Barca history to Messi…

The appearances record

After starting the visit of the Andalusians, Messi moved one clear of Xavi's previous record haul of 505 LaLiga appearances in the Blaugrana.

Like Xavi, it has taken Messi 17 seasons to go beyond 500 outings in Spain's top flight.

But while Xavi opted to depart for a final payday in Qatar with Al-Sadd, whom he now coaches, Messi's career at the very top appears to be far from over.

His penalty in the 4-1 midweek mauling by Paris Saint-Germain took Messi to 20 goals across all competitions for the 13th successive season.

His stunning brace last weekend in the dismantling of Alaves left him on 15 in LaLiga, just one fewer than pacesetter Luis Suarez – it's pretty strong form considering many regard this Messi's worst individual season in over a decade.

 

Messi played his first LaLiga game for the club in 2004-05 before firmly securing himself a place in the first-team squad over the following two campaigns.

Xavi arguably made a slightly quicker impression, his 41 league outings across his first two seasons 17 more than Messi managed.

But Messi's remarkable consistency and longevity are reflected in the fact he has not played fewer than 31 LaLiga games in a single season since 2007-08, when he featured 28 times. The year before he made 26 appearances.

Having surpassed numerous club greats such as Guillermo Amor, Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes and Andres Iniesta along the way, he now moves past the final pillar.

More records to come?

Of course, it almost goes without saying that it's unclear what further LaLiga records Messi will break because his future is so uncertain.

Will he stay? Will he join PSG or Manchester City? 

Given Messi's previous insistence that Barca have to be challenging for titles, on the evidence of this season and their financial state, it's difficult to see them in the hunt for the major honours in the near future.

As such, many will expect him to follow through on his attempt to leave last year when his contract expires at the end of the season.

That shouldn't prevent Messi taking another of Xavi's club records, with the Argentinian just seven behind his former team-mate's 767 Barca appearances across all competitions. No one has made more.

But Messi, who became LaLiga's all-time leading goalscorer long ago, will likely miss out on the chance of setting a new overall league record for appearances.

His 506 is still 116 fewer than Andoni Zubizarreta's 622, with Real Betis midfielder Joaquin – still active at 39 – the closest to the former goalkeeper's record on 568.

Sergio Ramos is the only other active player ahead of Messi on 507, with Athletic Bilbao's Raul Garcia (505) just behind the Barca captain.

Although missing out on such a record would be a minor footnote in an otherwise astonishing career, it's hard to escape from the thought Messi's legacy might be that bit more magical were he to spend all of his playing days at the same club.

Manchester United's opening-day 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace was a chastening reminder of the team's frailties, but there was a somewhat surprising voice behind the subsequent call-to-action for the club's hierarchy.

Luke Shaw provided undoubtedly the most honest assessment of the situation among United players, this from a player who had rarely come across as a natural leader during his time at the club.

"We have a very good group, but personally I think we need more players to strengthen the squad," he told Norway's TV2. "It can give us a boost. When you look around at how other teams are strengthening their teams, then we must also do it to keep up with the others."

Perhaps the fact he wasn't speaking to a British outlet resulted in a more relaxed, open response from Shaw, who then also went on to criticise their pre-season.

But it was a new, authoritative look for a player who has always seemingly preferred to keep away from the media spotlight, and few United fans would have disagreed with him.

What happened next, however, he probably didn't expect – among the four players signed on deadline day in October was a new left-back, a Brazil international with the kind of attack-minded profile many had hoped Shaw would develop at United.

While Shaw definitely showed signs of progress in 2019-20, Alex Telles' arrival was the clearest sign that his position was no longer assured – he needed to respond.

 

A SHAW THING

The fact Telles has made just six Premier League starts in his debut season at Old Trafford is as good a starting point as any when highlighting Shaw's improved standing, and in fairness to the new signing, he's hardly put a foot wrong.

Telles has looked a solid acquisition and certainly fits the bill as a forward-thinking full-back who is also capable defensively, but Shaw has reached a level he has arguably never shown before in his career.

As an attacking outlet, Shaw's output has improved almost across the board, as such he has made himself almost undroppable.

 

His five assists is already a personal high for a Premier League season, having only managed seven in total before 2020-21, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. He is creating 2.3 chances per 90 minutes, which is up from one last term and well clear of his previous best of 1.2 each game for an entire campaign.

Undoubtedly one reason for that is the fact he is taking more set-pieces, yet his average of 1.4 open play chances created per 90 minutes remains a frequency he has never matched before over the course of a season, proving his increased familiarity with dead-ball duties isn't skewing the data.

A quick glance at his average position activity maps shows his involvement in the left-hand channel of the attacking third is up on each of the past two seasons, as well as his final year with Southampton.

 

This shows Shaw is embracing greater attacking responsibility, and where that is reflected most is the number of passes (including crosses) he is playing into the box each game (7.4). His last season with Saints had been his best in this regard (4.4), yet he's way up on that, and his productivity here is more than two-and-a-half times what it was in 2019-20 (2.9).

Shaw's early days with Southampton appeared to promise much. Finally, he appears to be back on track, not that it's been smooth sailing.

 

COPING, OUTLASTING, PROGRESSING

Shaw's relationship with Jose Mourinho became something of a distraction at times during the Portuguese's ill-fated reign.

Granted, Shaw wasn't the only player Mourinho seemed to have a problem with, but his treatment of Shaw in particular did leave a sour taste.

In two-and-a-half years playing for Mourinho, Shaw only made 33 Premier League appearances. While he did have injury and fitness problems, the manager's attitude seemingly did little to endear himself to the player.

Mourinho publicly criticised him after a 2016 defeat to Watford, saying: "For the second goal, [Nordin] Amrabat on the right side, our left-back is 25 metres distance from him, instead of five metres. But even at 25 metres, then you have to jump and go press. But no, we wait."

Mourinho then used Shaw's positive performance against Everton in 2017 against him. He said: "He had a good performance, but it was his body with my brain. He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him."

This isn't to say Shaw has been faultless this season. In fact, his defensive focus has been questionable at times in 2020-21, such as against Tottenham and Manchester City, for example.

But it's fair to say the greater attacking impetus he is showing this term compared to under Mourinho means he is more than making up for the occasional defensive lapse, and it's not like he's being beaten time after time – on average Shaw is dribbled past once every two games, the second lowest frequency for a single season in his entire career.

The difference? Well, according to the man himself, belief and competition.

"I feel really good, obviously big credit to Ole for that for believing in me and pushing me," Shaw said last month. "Alex [Telles] as well, we have a great relationship and he pushes me each day in training. We get on really well. It's nice to have that type of competition, but we push each other to get the best from ourselves. When he plays, I want the best for him, and it's the same the other way round. It's a positive way for both of us to look at it and push each other."

 

THE BEST?

There was a time – not even that long ago – when the very suggestion of Shaw being among the Premier League's best full-backs would have drawn a chuckle of derision in response.

Granted, across the four seasons prior to 2020-21, Shaw's best record of open play chances created per 90 minutes was 0.2, but there can be no doubt he is now at least in the conversation.

 

Liverpool's Andy Robertson is generally seen as the standard-bearer for left-backs in England's top flight, and Shaw compares well from an attacking sense with the Scotland international.

Shaw's 40 chances created this term is one more than Robertson, while the latter is just ahead in terms of key passes in open play (29 to 24) – though the United man has made 20 appearances to his rival's 24.

Robertson is proving a more regular source of service, with his 213 passes into the box and 201 total crosses/corners far more than Shaw's respective numbers (129 and 105), but the United left-back's deliveries are far more reliable.

Shaw's 37 successful crosses/corners is just five fewer than Robertson despite playing almost half the amount of overall deliveries.

But what really highlights Shaw's growth is his xA (expected assists) figures. His xA per 90, so the amount of assists he would ordinarily be expected to get per game, is 0.21 in 2020-21. Not only is that better than his previous best by some distance (0.12), Joao Cancelo (0.24) is the only full-back doing better here this term.

 

Shaw has made himself almost indispensable to United, his influence all the more important given Aaron Wan-Bissaka isn't particularly refined as an attacking outlet and they very rarely play with conventional wingers on either flank.

Therefore, Shaw offers the kind of threat from the wings that arguably no one else in the United squad does – and as his xA record shows, he is proving a consistent danger that marks him out as one of the league's best.

After being plagued by questions relating to his mentality for years, it's fair to say he is responding in the ideal fashion, with Telles' signing seemingly an important catalyst.

While it might be a little early to declare him outright the Premier League's best, his current trajectory at least shows that to be a realistic aim.

Liverpool fans are sure to already be feeling sufficient hurt from Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Everton.

The Reds came into this Merseyside derby having not lost to their rivals in over a decade, while you had to go back as far as 1999 for a loss at Anfield.

But this is a result that held significance beyond local bragging rights - it could well be the one that condemns Jurgen Klopp's side to Europa League football next term.

It is not necessarily that the gap is too big, with Liverpool still just three points behind fourth place despite their recent woeful run.

Nor is it that the opposition are too good - Chelsea also dropped points on Saturday, Everton still trail their neighbours, and Leicester City showed last year that they are capable of a late-season collapse.

Yet it is almost impossible to imagine the reigning champions making any of that pay as they contend with injury problems that simply refuse to ease.

Klopp started this game with his 17th different centre-back partnership of the season in defence, none of whom had made it through three consecutive games.

And that dreadful record was extended in the first half as Jordan Henderson limped off to be replaced by Nat Phillips.

The long-term absences of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have not just left a hole in the defence, they have also put too much demand on their replacements.

It is no coincidence that two of them - Henderson and Fabinho - are both now sidelined with muscle problems. 

Throw in the fact they are also being desperately missed in midfield and that the acquisition of the inexperienced Ozan Kabak now looks like little more than desperation and it does not add up to a solid foundation.

Of course, the problems don't just stop there, as one goal in almost nine hours of football at Anfield underlines.

The loss of Diogo Jota as a rotational option during a season more relentless than any other is no doubt part of that - again, it comes back to injuries.

Things may ease slightly on that front in the coming days, with Jota, James Milner and Fabinho close to returning, though Klopp must now wait nervously on Henderson.

Still, these players will come back into a Liverpool team that has just lost four on the bounce in the league at home for the first time since 1923 and is well short of confidence.

Only a huge change in fortunes on the fitness front will allow the Reds to put together the sort of turnaround in form that would make a top-four finish a possibility.

But supporters won't be holding their breath, and the consequences of that are sure to be far-reaching.

The reluctance of the club's owners, Fenway Sports Group, to spend during a pandemic was evident in the buy-now-pay-later deals agreed for Jota and Thiago Alcantara over the summer.

There was a notable lack of risk, too, attached to the mid-season loan of Kabak, who arrived from Schalke only with an option to buy attached.

And the Americans are unlikely to be willing to sanction any big-money deals if Champions League money is not present on next season's accounts.

If there is one upside for Liverpool, it is that clubs across Europe who might covet the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are unlikely to be able to finance such moves themselves.

But either way, it is likely that more pain awaits, not just across the remainder of this season, but into the summer as well.

Daniil Medvedev goes into Sunday's Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic in incredible form.

The Russian star extended his winning streak to 20 matches with a straight-sets victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals on Friday.

Medvedev became the 25th man in the Open Era to record a Tour-level winning streak of 20 matches. He is the sixth active player to manage the feat, joining Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro.

The 25-year-old's run has not only been utterly dominant, but also included some rather impressive wins.

Of his 20 victories, 12 have come against top-10 players, including Djokovic. Since November, Medvedev has beaten every other member of the top 10 except Federer, who has been out of action.

"It's great to know this. It's a pity that Roger is not playing. I would love to have played him. I'm not saying anything. I just would love to play against him. I mean, to play against Roger is always a privilege. Against Novak, Rafa, Roger," Medvedev said after his win over Tsitsipas.

"But it's great to hear this. I mean, happy about myself, because I remember one moment when I was already playing quite good I actually was struggling with the top-10 guys when I was maybe around top 20 or top 30.

"It's great to hear this and I'm really happy about it."

Along with Djokovic and Nadal, Medvedev's run has also included wins over Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev (three times), Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini and Tsitsipas.

In his 20-match streak, Medvedev has won 44 sets and lost just seven, and two of those were in his five-set victory over Filip Krajinovic in the third round.

Medvedev has won three of his past four meetings with Djokovic, who edges their overall head-to-head 4-3.

His run will have Medvedev full of confidence as he bids to win a first grand slam title, needing to overcome the record eight-time champion in Melbourne to do so.

Sunday's Milan derby will be unlike any seen for much of the past decade: a battle between two genuine Scudetto contenders.

Inter head into the game, the 174th league meeting with their city rivals, at the top of Serie A. They are just a point above Milan, with 16 rounds remaining, after a run of 12 wins in 15 games.

The last time these sides met in the top flight while occupying the top two positions in the table was back in April 2011, when a 3-0 win for the Rossoneri helped propel them to their most recent title.

Much of the focus will be on star strikers Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They scored all three goals in Milan's win in the reverse fixture and clashed on the pitch in the Nerazzurri's more recent Coppa Italia triumph.

However, according to esteemed former Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi, the real star of the show might be found in Inter's midfield.

"Those looking for the prototype of the modern footballer should look at Nicolo Barella and they will be satisfied," Sacchi said in his column for La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"The Inter player plays for the team and with the team, he attacks and defends, attacks with courage and fights to win the ball back.

"I've been following Barella since he was a kid. He came into Italy's youth teams when I was the Azzurri's technical director. He was not a phenomenon, he was physically frail, he did not have an incredible technique, yet he managed to reach very high levels.

"This shows that at the base of any successful career there is always hard work, training, the spirit of sacrifice and the desire to improve day after day."

For Sacchi, Barella represents the paragon of the modern player. But what makes him so effective?

BOX-TO-BOX BRILLIANCE

Barella is enjoying the best season of his career in terms of goal involvements, with three scored and eight assisted in 32 games in all competitions. Only five Serie A midfielders have been directly involved in more goals.

The 24-year-old has created 42 chances from open play across all competitions this term, only Milan playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu (44) has more among players in Italy's top flight, while Barella has also completed 469 passes ending in the final third, the highest number of any midfield player among Italy's top-tier sides.

Of course, as part of a three-man central midfield under Antonio Conte, creating opportunities is not enough (just ask Christian Eriksen). And, as Sacchi pointed out, Barella's impact is equally impressive when it comes to keeping the opposition away from your own goal.

He is third among Serie A midfielders for tackles won in 2020-21 (35, behind Adrien Rabiot and Marten de Roon), and third for duels won (175, behind Juraj Kucka and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic). That's a continuation of combative play honed at Cagliari, where, in his final two seasons, he was top of the league's midfield rankings with 480 duels won.

 

"COURAGE"

Sacchi spoke glowingly of Barella's bravery, of how an unassuming youngster developed into Serie A's most influential midfielder so early in his career.

He's right – there's a boldness to Barella's play that sets him apart.

In Serie A this season, he has completed 87 progressive carries in which the ball was moved between five and 10 metres up the pitch, which is the most of any attacking midfielder in the league. Twelve of his carries have ended in a chance being created, the fourth-best tally among players in his position.

These kinds of plays help Inter keep possession and limit the risk of losing the ball in dangerous areas. Indeed, Conte's side have faced only 18 shot-ending high turnovers of possession in Serie A this term, the lowest figure in the league, while only Napoli (230) and Juventus (212) have faced fewer pressed sequences than the Nerazzurri (232).

Once in more promising positions, Barella is still the man pulling the strings. His tally of shot build-up involvements – a measure of a player's involvement in sequences ending in a team-mate's shot on goal or chance created – stands at 60, the most of any attacking midfielder in the league.

Looking at sequences where players are involved in the build-up and also create the chance at the end, Barella is third in the division for his position with eight, just two behind Lorenzo Insigne and Ruslan Malinovskiy.

 

CONTE'S LIEUTENANT

Barella's eagerness to be at the heart of matters on the pitch extends to when Inter don't have the ball – at both ends of the pitch.

As well as being third among midfielders this term for tackles and duels won, Barella is fifth for regaining possession, having done so 168 times. When it comes to winning back the ball in the final third, he is top of the pile with 26 (both across all comps).

This, too, helps to set the tone for Inter's approach. In Serie A in 2020-21, they have made 190 high turnovers, a tally bettered only by Gian Piero Gasperini's Atalanta pressing machine (251). Plus, only Atalanta (129) and Juve (128) have had fewer high turnovers against them than Inter (130). It's an impressive combination, and Barella is integral to it.

As Sacchi said: "A detail that is far from negligible is the desire to put the group at the top of one's thoughts and, in this way self-centeredness, a disease of modern football, is fought and defeated.

"Barella is proving to be a driving force."

 

The return of UEFA club competitions this week offered a reminder that there remain significant hoops to jump through before the delayed European Championship kicks off.

Fixtures being switched to alternative venues due to local coronavirus regulations cast the multiple host city model for Euro 2020 in an unhelpful light, with March's international break set to throw up fresh challenges.

Postponing and rearranging a major sporting event due to ongoing and unspeakably tragic global circumstances makes any focus on the footballing concerns within the equation feel somewhat crass.

But all 24 men leading countries into the finals will look at their squads before kick-off and ponder whether the additional 12 months of waiting and haphazard preparation have been a help or a hindrance in terms of form and personnel.

For England manager Gareth Southgate, the delay looks to have been advantageous.

It is highly unlikely the now resurgent John Stones and Luke Shaw would have featured in his defensive plans, much less centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is now the obvious back-up to captain Harry Kane.

Aston Villa's sparkling creative inspiration Jack Grealish now has England caps to his name, while a crop of richly gifted youngsters are flourishing.

None more so than Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden, who will go head to head when Premier League leaders Manchester City travel to Arsenal on Sunday.

Learning on the job

When Southgate comes to whittle down his final 23, versatility will count as a plus point for those hopeful of making the cut.

Foden and Saka have it in abundance, even if they have edged towards a degree of specialism during stunning runs of individual form during English football's winter months.

A central midfielder on his way through the youth ranks at boyhood club City, Foden's deployment on the left-wing has more or less coincided with the record-breaking 17-match winning run across all competitions that left Pep Guardiola's side 10 points clear at the start of the weekend

Not that it stopped Guardiola starting the 20-year-old as a false nine away to Liverpool, before switching Foden to the right flank for the second half, from where he provided an assist and a goal to inspire a statement 4-1 win.

Then, with Ilkay Gundogan injured, he was back in midfield to open the scoring during Wednesday's 3-1 win over Everton.

"He can play in both positions, he is so young," Guardiola said ahead of the Arsenal game.

"Phil just needs - and for the age [he is], he will get it –  the timing to play inside.

"When you play as a winger you have to play in one tempo, with one timing and one rhythm. When you play in the middle you have to play with another one.

"When he gets this balance, he will be 10 times the extraordinary player that he is right now. It's just a question of time."

Foden has four goals and two assists since the turn of the year in the Premier League, the same figures that can be attributed to Saka since Mikel Arteta selected him on the right wing for the Boxing Day clash against Chelsea.

Saka has featured at left-back, in both wing-back roles and centrally during Arteta's tenure, but he got on the scoresheet in a dominant 3-1 derby victory and has not looked back.

"I see Bukayo evolving, getting better and getting to understand different positions and finally we will fit him in one that gives the best [result]," Arteta said back in July. It appears he has his answer.

Variety is the spice of life

Splitting Saka's 21 Premier League appearances this season into centre, right or left positionally, Opta data shows he creates 1.1 chances per 90 minutes when on the right.

Both of his top-flight assists this term have come when starting on that flank, while an expected assists (xA) scored of 0.23 per 90 indicates a better quality of pass into danger areas when set against stints on the left or through the middle.

The 19-year-old, whose four England caps have come at left wing-back, is similarly effective dribbling on either flank, with 1.4 (left) and 1.5 (right) completed per match.

That figure rises to 3.1 when Saka has played through the middle this season, although two appearances and a solitary – albeit goalscoring – start in a central three versus Sheffield United skew his numbers to a degree.

Guardiola's words this week suggest Foden will find himself back on the flanks at Emirates Stadium, but the City star's feel for a goal comes to the fore when he plays through the middle.

In six Premier League games where he has operated centrally, his goals per game rate of 0.81 per 90 minutes and 2.4 dribbles completed per game are his highest across the three categories.

A shot conversion of 30 per cent also dwarfs his efforts from the left (11 per cent) but 2.5 chances created from open play per 90 in the latter role is perhaps the most significant statistic when it comes to explaining why he has made Leroy Sane's old position his own.

Among Europe's best

Saka and Foden each stack up very well when compared to the leading players under 21 throughout Europe. Indeed, no player within their age range has played more than Saka's 2,317 minutes in all competitions across clubs in the big five leagues.

Foden (2,130) comes in sixth in that regard, while his 11 goals are third behind Moise Kean (16) and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland (25). Saka's six goals overall place him seventh.

Jadon Sancho (11) is the only under-21 player with more assists than Foden (six), while the City player's 44 chances created from open play comes in second to the Dortmund winger – another handy illustration of the ample resources at Southgate's disposal.

How he should deploy them will be relentlessly discussed before June, even if those arguments are now the preserve of Zoom calls rather than crowded pubs.

What increasingly appears beyond debate is that Foden and Saka have established ironclad cases for inclusion, having at best been outside punts a year ago.

Along with their dazzling array of skills, the versatility Guardiola and Arteta have used to their benefit could prove invaluable to Southgate amid the cut and thrust of tournament football.

Novak Djokovic will take the advantage of having an extra day's rest into the Australian Open final against the red-hot Daniil Medvedev.

Djokovic is set to compete in his 28th grand slam final and ninth in Melbourne as the Serbian star eyes an 18th major title on Sunday.

The 33-year-old looked in good form in a semi-final thrashing of Aslan Karatsev on Thursday – 24 hours before Medvedev impressively dispatched of Stefanos Tsitsipas.

For the second year in a row, Djokovic will have an extra day's rest over his opponent ahead of the decider.

Since 2000, players who have had the extra day's rest have won 12 and lost nine of the 21 finals. Djokovic has had the slight advantage four times – and four times he has not – and won all eight finals.

Given he has battled a suspected abdominal injury at this year's tournament, the additional day could be an important factor for Djokovic.

He faces Medvedev, who is on a 20-match winning streak that has included 12 victories over top-10 players.

The latest of those was a 6-4 6-2 7-5 mauling of Tsitsipas in their semi-final on Friday.

A key for Medvedev in that success, in which he endured a third-set blip, was that it came in two hours, nine minutes.

Since 2000, men who won the second semi-final in less than three hours are 6-5 in deciders. That record drops to 3-7 when the last-four clash has exceeded three hours.

Of the three that have managed it after marathon wins, Djokovic achieved it twice – in 2012 and 2015, while Rafael Nadal was the other in 2009, when he beat Roger Federer in the final after winning an epic against Fernando Verdasco.

It leaves the extra day's rest likely to be less of a factor on Sunday as both men chase history.

Entering Australian Open final with an extra day's rest since 2000
2020: Novak Djokovic (won against Dominic Thiem)
2019: Rafael Nadal (lost against Novak Djokovic)
2018: Marin Cilic (lost against Roger Federer)
2017: Roger Federer (won against Rafael Nadal)
2016: Novak Djokovic (won against Andy Murray)
2015: Andy Murray (lost against Novak Djokovic)
2014: Stan Wawrinka (won against Rafael Nadal)
2013: Novak Djokovic (won against Andy Murray)
2012: Rafael Nadal (lost against Novak Djokovic)
2011: Novak Djokovic (won against Andy Murray)
2010: Andy Murray (lost against Roger Federer)
2009: Roger Federer (lost against Rafael Nadal)
2008: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (lost against Novak Djokovic)
2007: Roger Federer (won against Fernando Gonzalez)
2006: Marcos Baghdatis (lost against Roger Federer)
2005: Marat Safin (won against Lleyton Hewitt)
2004: Marat Safin (lost against Roger Federer)
2003: Andre Agassi (won against Rainer Schuttler)
2002: Thomas Johansson (won against Marat Safin)
2001: Andre Agassi (won against Arnaud Clement)
2000: Andre Agassi (won against Yevgeny Kafelnikov)
Wins: 12 Losses: 9

It turns out all Liverpool needed was a short midweek break to Budapest to reconnect, restore some confidence and rediscover their ruthless streak.

Tuesday's 2-0 triumph over RB Leipzig in the Hungarian capital was a much-needed boost for Jurgen Klopp's squad, as the Champions League seemingly holds their only hope of silverware.

Before the second leg, though, they resume a Premier League campaign that has seen the focus switch from retaining the title to finishing in the top four. With no club spared from feeling the financial impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Reds can ill-afford to miss out on the monetary benefits that come from playing in Europe's premier competition.

Next up: the Merseyside derby on Saturday. Liverpool welcome their neighbours to Anfield having lost three league games on the spin for the first time in Klopp's reign, though the European trip helped quickly lift the gloom that had engulfed them following the disheartening 3-1 defeat to Leicester City.

Mohamed Salah scored against Leipzig, meaning the Egyptian now has 24 in all competitions. There was also a goal for Sadio Mane, who – unlike his fellow forward – has not quite hit the same heights as he reached previously.

A one-on-one finish lifted Mane's tally for the season to 11 in 31 appearances, though just seven of those goals have come in league action. The Senegal forward finished level for the Golden Boot with Salah and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2018-19 on 22 goals, while last term he managed 18.

It will take a strong finish down the stretch to get close to those figures again, but is there a clear reason for Mane's dip in productivity?


ISSUES UP FRONT - AND AT THE BACK

After 24 games in 2019-20, runaway leaders Liverpool had scored 56 goals and let in 15. At the same stage this season, they have conceded 32. Without a solid foundation to build on, the sense of invincibility has disappeared, replaced instead by a vulnerability that offers opponents hope, provided they repel what comes their way.

The attack could help mask some of those defensive deficiencies. While they have managed fewer goals this season (45), the numbers have remained relatively consistent with previous years.

Though Liverpool's shot conversion rate of 17.58 per cent is slightly lower, they have done better when it comes to putting away big chances, per Opta data. At 45.31 per cent, the Reds have been more successful than a season ago (40.37), albeit their minutes-per-goal average is obviously up (48 compared to 40.24, while in the 2018-19 season it went even lower, down at 38.43).

After consistent improvement, a plateau or a dip was always going to come along at some stage. What was not expected, however, is the number of injuries Klopp has had to deal with. It should not be underestimated how the rotation behind the established forward line has had an effect, particularly with midfield regulars Fabinho and Jordan Henderson having to fill in for absent centre-backs.


TARGET PRACTICE REQUIRED

Key absences have obviously hampered Liverpool, but the established trio up top have remained relatively consistent in Klopp's line-ups. Diogo Jota did arrive to provide competition, yet his fast start to life on Merseyside was put on hold by a long-term injury. Yes, even new recruits were not safe from suffering pain.

Predominantly playing on the left side of a front three, Mane has occupied similar positions to the previous season. His total number of shots appears on course to be similar, though there has been a noticeable decline when it comes to converting them.

His success rate of 14.29 per cent with attempts is his lowest since signing for the club. There is no such regression when it comes to taking big chances, yet his average of 255 minutes per goal is not just a major rise on previous years with Liverpool, but also higher than either of his seasons spent with Southampton.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Mane is underperforming in terms of his xG (expected goals) rate for 2020-21, with his seven goals from 63 attempts under his expected total of 9.3. In contrast, when helping secure a long-awaited championship, Liverpool's first in the top flight for 30 years, he hit 18 goals - a total managed from 77 shots - to comfortably outperform his xG of 13.7.


DERBY DAYS PROVIDE FOND MEMORIES

Having scored against Leipzig, Mane will be aiming to once again make an impact in what looks to be a pivotal derby for both teams. 

The 28-year-old was on target against Everton in the 2-2 result at Goodison Park back in October, a game that changed Liverpool's course dramatically as Virgil van Dijk suffered a serious knee injury. There were signs of cracks appearing before then - most noticeably in the shock 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa - but the Dutchman’s absence continues to be keenly felt.

The Reds leaned heavily on Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold as attacking outlets on their way to being crowned champions. The full-back pairing had 16 assists between them, the former leading the way with 10 (vastly higher than his xA - expected assists - value of 4.88).

This term, they have not quite had the same impact going forwards. They have three assists each, in line with their xA figures. Mane has also contributed the same number, having registered seven in the league in 2019-20.

Fatigue - both mental and physical - could also be an issue for Mane and his team-mates. According to former Liverpool player Vladimir Smicer, it would be understandable considering what they have been through, not just across the past few months but indeed ever since their unlikely run to the Champions League final in 2018. 

"Sometimes we are missing a bit of freshness in important moments in the game, which is the difference in regard to last season," Smicer told Stats Perform News courtesy of KIA.

"Even the VAR decisions against Liverpool this year, where last year everything was perfect, going well. 

"That might be why even Mane – a fantastic player, in my eyes one of the best players in the world – is suffering a little bit, whether it be with fewer goals, or his offensive potency."

Everton could be just the opponents to raise levels again, though. Mane has never lost a derby meeting in his Liverpool career, a record he will be keen to protect this weekend.

Naomi Osaka can continue what is becoming a magical trend with a win in the Australian Open final.

The Japanese star will face Jennifer Brady in the decider at Melbourne Park on Saturday as she eyes a fourth grand slam title.

But Osaka, 23, can also continue an unlikely and rather incredible trend at the year's first grand slam – winning the crown after saving match point.

If she can get past Brady, Osaka would become the seventh woman in the Open Era to win the Australian Open after saving a match point along the way, joining Monica Seles (1991), Jennifer Capriati (2002), Serena Williams (2003 and 2005), Li Na (2014), Angelique Kerber (2016) and Caroline Wozniacki (2018).

Osaka was pushed to the brink by Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round of this year's tournament. She faced two match points at 3-5 in the third set, saving the first with an ace down the T – no woman has served more aces than her 44 at the tournament – before a powerful forehand forced Muguruza into an error. Osaka would win four straight games to reach the quarter-finals.

Wozniacki's success three years ago was particularly remarkable as she saved two match points in the second round against Jana Fett, reeling off six straight games from 5-1 down in the final set. The last time it happened in a women's draw outside of the Australian Open was at Wimbledon in 2009, and it has occurred three times since in Melbourne.

Osaka's coach, Wim Fissette, said the mental side of the game was a key focus for the star.

"I think it's just part of the workday by day and where we speak about different topics. And honestly, it's a very important topic for her. She knows the experience of the past years like when her attitude is good, her mind is very clear what she needs to do, what she wants to do, and then she plays well," he said on Friday.

"So, the base of playing really well is a good attitude. Doesn't mean you cannot be negative, like, at some point, you know. It's only human or normal to be frustrated maybe at one point, but to reset immediately, that's a very important one. So it's not something, let's say, we had, like, big conversations about, but it's a daily topic, and it's more coming from Naomi that she wants to be that person that's always, like, behaves well on the court. That's kind of a role model also for younger players."

While Brady shapes as a major test, Osaka has won every major at which she has gone past the fourth round.

Osaka is also on a 20-match winning streak, becoming the third woman since 2010 to achieve such a run – joining Williams (27 in 2014-15) and Victoria Azarenka (26 in 2012). The incredible run included a US Open semi-final win over Brady last year, and Osaka has proven unstoppable – a couple of walkovers aside. Brady pushed Osaka to three sets at Flushing Meadows and the American has put together a fine run of her own in Melbourne.

But the three-time major winner's hot streak has her well-placed for more history on Saturday, and to continue an incredible trend in Melbourne.

Manchester City appear to be cruising towards the Premier League title and will look to extend a 17-match winning run away to Mikel Arteta's Arsenal.

While top spot is firmly in their hands, the chasing back have plenty to play for, with Manchester United in need of a win at home to Newcastle United and Tottenham heading to West Ham for a tough London derby.

Chelsea's winning streak under Thomas Tuchel has put them firmly back into top-four contention, and Timo Werner's welcome return to goalscoring could have come at a critical time.

That said, fantasy football managers would also be wise to consider Danny Ings, whose impressive scoring record will be of concern to Tuchel's men.

 

EMILIANO MARTINEZ

Aston Villa's reported £20million spend on Emiliano Martinez is a candidate for the best piece of Premier League business this season.

Martinez kept his 12th clean sheet of the season to help Villa grind out a draw at Brighton and Hove Albion last time out.

The former Arsenal man is just the fifth Villa keeper in the Premier League era to keep at least 10 clean sheets in a season and is only three short of Brad Friedel's tally set back in 2009-10. Leicester City's impressive attack could have met its match.

 

LUKE SHAW

Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw has enjoyed perhaps his best season for the club, with his form rarely affected despite his team's up-and-down recent results.

He has provided an assist in each of his previous three appearances, registering five in total this term, his best tally in a single league season.

Against a struggling Newcastle side, Shaw could become only the fourth United player to assist a goal in four consecutive games, after Ryan Giggs, Nani and Antonio Valencia.

LEWIS DUNK

Brighton have not conceded more than one goal in any game since drawing 3-3 with Wolves on January 2.

On Saturday, they host a Crystal Palace side who have failed to score in a higher share of their away league games this season (58 per cent) than in any other campaign in the competition's history.

A clean sheet for Brighton and Lewis Dunk looks likely, and given the centre-back has scored more goals (six) than any other defender except Virgil van Dijk (also six) since the start of 2019-20, he could be worth the captaincy this weekend.

 

RAHEEM STERLING

If Arsenal are to stop City's run, they will need to keep Raheem Sterling quiet.

The England forward has scored seven times in the league against the Gunners – he has only scored more often against Watford, West Ham and Bournemouth.

Sterling has netted in all three of his previous league meetings with Arsenal and has registered four goals and two assists in his most recent five games against them.

SON HEUNG-MIN

West Ham have rarely gone into recent games with Tottenham as favourites, but they are six points ahead of Jose Mourinho's men in the table, after playing a game more.

However, they will have to contend with Son Heung-min if that points gap is going to grow. The South Korea star has been involved in six goals in his past five league games with the Hammers and assisted in each of the last three.

In fact, he has assisted more goals (four) against West Ham than he has against any other side in the Premier League.

 

TIMO WERNER

Timo Werner ended his league goal drought against Newcastle United last time out, scoring exactly 1,000 minutes after his previous effort against Sheffield United in November.

Despite that much-publicised goal drought, Werner has actually been directly involved in more goals (10) in the league than any other Chelsea player this season, while only Mason Mount (105) has had a hand in more shots (73).

With his confidence beginning to grow, this could be a good time to back the Germany striker in your selection.

DANNY INGS

Southampton have lost six games in a row since knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup in the fourth round, so backing a win over Chelsea would seem a little bold.

Still, expecting Danny Ings to be among the goals is usually a safer bet.

The striker has the best minutes-per-goal ratio of any Saints player with at least 15 in the competition, averaging one every 161 minutes.

Battling both Father Time and his opponent, LeBron James remains a nearly unstoppable force in his 18th season. 

Averaging 25.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.9 assists, James is once again posting impressive numbers for the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers while playing every game so far this season.

With Los Angeles off to a 22-7 start, James appears to be the early favourite for MVP, which would put James in rarified air with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan as the only players to win the award at least five times. 

James, who won his first MVP award after the 2008-09 season, would also secure the record for the most time between MVP honours if he were to win again – a fitting tribute for a player who has broken the rules of basketball longevity.

As good as James has been this season, his lead in the race is narrow, and perhaps his three most deserving rivals come from the center position, despite the league's embrace of "small ball". 

Whether it be the "seven seconds or less" Phoenix Suns teams of the mid-2000s, the perimeter-fueled Golden State Warriors teams that won three titles or the Houston Rockets' dramatic downsizing last season that left 6ft 5in P.J. Tucker defending 7-footers, the NBA has been trending small for the better part of the last two decades.  

Shaquille O'Neal is the last true center to win MVP in 1999-00, although Tim Duncan played plenty of center during his 2001-02 and 2003-03 MVP campaigns. Some pundits have even forecasted the extinction of the true center as the league leans toward perimeter play and positional versatility.  

Yet three centers – Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz – are assembling compelling cases to be voted this season's MVP.  

Jokic is the focal point of the Nuggets' offense, on pace to dish out the most assists ever by a player 7 feet or taller at 8.6 per game. He is also averaging a team-high 27.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.57 steals.  

With Jokic on the court, the Nuggets score 117.2 points per 100 possessions – better than any team's full-season numbers – while shooting 49.9 percent from the field. When Jokic sits, Denver's offense operates with the efficiency of league-worst Cleveland, shoots just 42.5 percent, makes fewer 3-pointers and commits more turnovers.  

The Serbia native has helped the Nuggets navigate several absences due to COVID-19 protocols, but with a 15-13 start – eighth in the West – MVP voters are typically hesitant to vote for a team outside the top four in its conference. And while Jokic has improved on defense over the last few seasons, his weaknesses on that side of the floor are a fair argument against him being named more valuable than any other player.  

Embiid, on the other hand, is a two-time All-Defensive Team selection who is also turning in his best offensive season by a wide margin. His 29.7 points per game are on pace to be the most by a 7-footer since 1999-00 (Shaquille O'Neal, 29.7), while shooting career bests of 54 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from 3-point range.  

Embiid is also a tremendous free throw shooter, regardless of position, making 85.1 percent this season. He is even better in high-stakes situations, making 88.5 percent of his free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a 19-for-20 mark in the last three minutes of a game.  

With Embiid on the court, the Sixers have a net rating of +11.2 points per 100 possessions but are -5.7 per 100 possessions when he is off the court. Embiid is vital to his team, with the 76ers going 18-5 when he plays and 1-5 when he rests.  

While Embiid's time off the court shows just how valuable he is when he plays, it also may keep him from winning MVP this season. At his current workload, he is on pace to miss 15 of the Sixers' 72 games, more than 20 per cent. Embiid has played just under 748 minutes this season, while James and Jokic have played over 1,000 each.  

Gobert has played nearly 878 minutes for the Jazz, appearing in every game and leading Utah to a league-leading 24-5 record.

While his 14.2 points per game fail to measure up to his competitors' numbers, Gobert slots perfectly into the "best player on the best team" role that Giannis Antetokounmpo has occupied over the last two seasons and has added 13.4 rebounds and a career-high 2.69 blocks per game.  

Gobert is second in the league in plus-minus per 48 minutes at +15.3 (min. 500 minutes played), trailing only teammate Mike Conley at +18.9. 

The Jazz have surrounded Gobert with a roster mostly consisting of average or worse defensive players yet still rank third in the NBA, allowing 106 points per game.  

When Gobert is on the floor, Utah holds opponents to 101.6 points per 100 possession, fewer than any team's full-season numbers this year. And while Gobert ranks second in the NBA in blocked shots, his defensive impact extends beyond traditional numbers.  

Utah's opponents have attempted just 18.8 free throws per game – second fewest in the NBA – and Gobert's intimidating presence in the middle appears to be why. With Gobert on the court, Utah's opponents are attempting just 15.2 free throws per 100 possessions. When Gobert sits, that number balloons to 24.2.  

Ultimately, though, Gobert's limited offensive role makes him an outside candidate for MVP unless the Jazz finish the season on a historically great run.  

Gobert's skew toward defense, Jokic's skew toward offense and Embiid's limited availability could all open the door for LeBron – a worthy candidate in his own right – to take home his fifth MVP after this season.   

This trio of centers, however, has proven that there is still room for the big man to dominate in the modern NBA.  

Following Manchester City's 3-1 victory at Swansea City in the FA Cup last Wednesday, Pep Guardiola's side won their 15th successive match.

In doing so, they set a new record for an English top-flight club in all competitions, overtaking the 14-game winning runs of Arsenal and Preston North End in 1987 and 1892, respectively.

They have since extended this streak to 17 after great wins over both Tottenham and Everton in the Premier League.

Back in 2017, it was claimed by some that City had secured 20 wins on the trot, between August 26 and December 3 until they eventually lost 2-1 away at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on December 6.

The bone of contention stemmed from the 12th game in this run; a 0-0 draw against Wolves in the EFL Cup, which saw City progress 4-1 in a penalty shootout.

Here at Stats Perform, we have worked on the basis that a penalty shootout is a method to find a winner of a tie or to decide a tournament/trophy winner, rather than to decide who won an individual match.

The official Laws of the Game, which are the responsibility of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) could be interpreted in other ways, but we have always held the belief that they explain the situation as we understood it.

A high-profile example of why the winner of a penalty shootout cannot be considered the winner of a match is that of the 2011-12 Champions League semi-final tie between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

The two sides drew 3-3 on aggregate and it was in the second leg – which Real Madrid won 2-1 on the night – that Bayern Munich progressed to the final with a 3-1 penalty shootout victory.

Based on the assumption that the team to win the shootout wins the match, you would have two winners in a single game; Madrid won 2-1 but also lost because of a 3-1 shootout reverse to Bayern, who lost as well due to suffering a 2-1 defeat in the actual game.

City have been involved in an occasion similar to this in recent times. They won 2-0 at home to Danish club Aalborg in the first leg of their 2008-09 UEFA Cup round of 16 tie, before losing 2-0 away a week later.

City progressed 4-3 following a penalty shootout on the night but lost the actual game 2-0.

Following City's current phenomenal run of form, the IFAB's technical director David Elleray spoke to Stats Perform and put the matter to bed, once and for all. He referred to Law 10.2 in the 2020-21 Laws of the Game.

Elleray told Stats Perform: "Law 10 makes it clear that a match is drawn, won or lost according to the number of goals both teams score in 'normal' time or in 'normal' time plus extra-time.

"'Away goals' and 'kicks from the penalty mark' (KFPM) [penalty shootouts] are not part of the match itself and are only used to determine a 'winning team' where one is required. For KFPM, this is made clear in the next section of Law 10."

"Thus KFPM (as with 'away goals') do not change the result of the match itself as they occur after the match has ended," added Elleray.

Clearly, we're not the overlords of the statistics world.

Clubs, competitions and statisticians may choose to deem 'penalty shootout' wins as match victories – we can't change that. What's important is that terminologies need to be tightened up by those that choose this way of thinking, as there is an important technical difference between a match that's won in 'normal' time (or after extra-time) and one that's drawn and then 'won' as a result of kicks from the penalty mark (penalty shootout).

For example, the latter might constitute part of a 'winning' run (general term) but, for some, not necessarily part of a 'match-winning' run.

We'd like to thank David Elleray for his time and willingness for his statements to be put on record for publication, hopefully clearing up any confusion about this subject.

It further highlights just what an incredible run of form City are currently enjoying.

Staples Center will stage a clash of heavyweights on Thursday as the Los Angeles Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets, though it might not be quite the spectacle once hoped for.

Of course, most sporting contests are not quite what they used to be, owing to the lack of spectators allowed in the arenas.  

But the absence of Lakers star Anthony Davis with a calf injury, along with Kevin Durant's hamstring problem, which may keep the Nets forward out of a third straight game, further depletes a matchup that could be repeated in the NBA Finals.  

Yet LeBron James is still performing at the peak of his powers and the Nets' guard combination of James Harden and Kyrie Irving is firing on all cylinders, with the former dropping 38 points in a comeback from a 24-point deficit against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.  

Therefore, there will still be plenty to intrigue in this marquee showdown, even if the first meeting of LeBron and KD since Christmas Day 2018 is further delayed.  

TOP PERFORMERS

LeBron James - Los Angeles Lakers

James is the MVP frontrunner and he has maintained his remarkable levels of excellence this month, in which he has a pair of triple-doubles. 

He has successive double-doubles in his last two games, tallying at least 30 points for the fifth time this season in the win over the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves last time out. 

With Davis on the sidelines, LeBron will have to carry the bulk of the burden again if the Lakers are to claim their 23rd win.

Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets

Despite sitting out Brooklyn's astonishing fightback against the Suns because of a sore back, no member of the Nets has been more prolific in the month of February than Irving.  

The man who helped LeBron deliver a title to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 is averaging a team-high 29.8 points per game this month. Harden is next with an average of 24.4.  

He is shooting 55.5 per cent from the field and 48.8 per cent from three-point range, while his season-long average of 28.3 points a game is a career-high.  

Irving will, however, be hoping for a better performance than the one he produced in his sole game against the Lakers last year, when he went seven of 17 from the field in a 15-point loss.

KEY BATTLE - WHICH 'OTHERS' WILL STEP UP?

Though the Nets will still have the best backcourt in the league at their disposal, the injury issues surrounding Durant and Davis increases the spotlight on the lesser-heralded members of the two supporting casts.  

The Lakers will be looking for more of the same from Dennis Schroder, the guard rising to the challenge in Davis' absence against the Timberwolves and scoring 24 points.  

For the Nets, the onus may be more on Joe Harris, who has impressive numbers in terms of field goal percentage (57.5) and three-point shooting (51.1 per cent) for the month of February.  

This potential Finals preview could well be decided by which team's 'others' can best fill the void if Durant joins Davis in playing the role of spectator.

HEAD TO HEAD

It's the first meeting this season between the Lakers and Nets, though recent history suggests Brooklyn can afford to be confident even if they are without Durant. 

The two teams split the season series last term, but the Nets have won three of the last four games having swept the season series in 2018-19. 

All three of those victories came by a single-digit margin.

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo will look to inflict more Champions League pain on Porto and Borussia Dortmund travel to Sevilla for the first leg in the round of 16 on Wednesday.

Juve advanced from Group G at a canter, winning five of their six games to finish level on points with Barcelona.

The Serie A champions will be expected to knock Porto out, but Andrea Pirlo will be braced for a stern test in the first leg at Estadio do Dragao.

Sevilla do battle with Dortmund at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan a couple of days after it was announced that Borussia Monchengladbach head coach Marco Rose will take over at the Bundesliga club at the end of the season.

We take a look at the best stats on the two ties courtesy of Opta.

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