One of the most interesting offseasons in modern NFL history is on the horizon, with free agency set to begin next week.

Teams can negotiate with free agents from Monday, and franchises will be able to announce signings from Wednesday when the new league year begins.

The drop in salary cap, which is set at $182.5million, means many teams will have limited financial means with which to pursue their potential targets.

Yet there is a select group of players that will be able to command top dollar regardless of the economic challenges the coronavirus has presented.

Here we look at some of the players in that category by ranking the top 10 players set to hit the open market.

 

1. Shaquil Barrett - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With the Buccaneers franchising wide receiver Chris Godwin, Barrett is set to hit the open market and will earn a long overdue payday. Pivotal to Tampa's success in Super Bowl LV, only T.J. Watt (29.5) has more sacks over the last two seasons than Barrett's 27.5.

2. Trent Williams - San Francisco 49ers

It is extremely rare for left tackles of Williams' calibre to hit free agency. Williams would not be doing so had the Niners agreed not to franchise tag him. There have been positive noises about him re-signing with San Francisco, but Williams will likely command over $20million a year. He has not allowed more than 3.5 sacks since the 2014 season when he gave up six.

3. Kenny Golladay - Detroit Lions

Golladay was not franchised by the Lions following an injury-hit 2020, but that should not cloud what he did in his first three years in the league. One of the league's top big-play threats, Golladay's 33 receptions of 25 yards or more ranked fifth in the NFL between 2017 and 2019.

4. Aaron Jones - Green Bay Packers

That the Packers elected not to pay Jones $8million for one season on the franchise tag is not reflective of the running back's tremendous skill set. He has 43 touchdowns from scrimmage since entering the league in 2017, the eighth-most in the NFL in that time.

5. Carl Lawson - Cincinnati Bengals

One of the most underrated pass rushers on the market, the sack numbers have not quite been there for Lawson. He had only 5.5 last season but was tied-ninth in the NFL in hurries and knockdowns with 65.5. Lawson should flourish playing on a superior defense to that of Cincinnati.

6. Joe Thuney - New England Patriots

Franchised last year, Thuney could become the league's highest-paid guard and deservedly so. The picture of reliability, he has allowed just 1.5 sacks over the past three seasons in New England, playing in every regular season game.

7. Bud Dupree - Pittsburgh Steelers

Dupree has 19.5 sacks in the last two seasons, but his free agency value will be hurt by the torn ACL that brought his 2020 to a premature end. He has shown a nose for the football during his surge in production, Dupree's six forced fumbles from 2019-20 the fourth-highest total in that span.

8. Corey Linsley - Green Bay Packers

Linsley's pending free agency may have influenced the Packers' decision not to franchise Jones. They will surely make effort to bring the center back, Linsley having allowed one sack this season. For the second time in three seasons, he did not commit a single holding penalty and played a pivotal role in a rushing attack that finished eighth in yards per game.

9. Trey Hendrickson - New Orleans Saints

Hendrickson enjoyed a breakout year for a Saints team mired in salary cap hell. He won't be back in New Orleans, but should have no shortage of suitors at the age of 26 after finishing tied-second in the NFL with 13.5 sacks. 

10. Curtis Samuel - Carolina Panthers

Samuel perfectly fits an era where there is an increasing emphasis on wide receivers who can operate out of the backfield. He was second in rushing yards among wideouts with 200 and finished the year 11th in scrimmage yards per touch (8.9).

France resume their bid to win a first Six Nations title since 2010 with a trip to face wounded England at Twickenham, and Wales should made it four wins out of four this weekend.

A coronavirus outbreak in the French camp led to their clash with Scotland being postponed, but they will be back in action against the Red Rose on Saturday a month after beating Ireland.

Wales shattered England's hopes of retaining the title with a 40-24 win at the Principality Stadium and will be expected to stay perfect when they face Italy in Rome, also on Saturday.

Scotland will look to reignite their title challenge when they face Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

We use Opta data to preview the round-four encounters.

 

ITALY v WALES

FORM

Wales have won their last 15 Tests against Italy, and a 16th would represent their longest ever winning run against a single opponent in Test rugby (they won 15 in a row against France from 1908 to 1927).

A win over England secured Wales' fifth Triple Crown of the Six Nations era, They completed the Grand Slam in each of their previous four Triple Crown-winning campaigns since 2000 (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019).

Italy's losing run in the competition stands at 30 games and they have lost 19 in a row at home, stretching back to a defeat of Ireland eight years ago.

ONES TO WATCH

Azzurri fly-half Paolo Garbisi has made more kicks in play (29) and recorded more kicking metres (1,142m) than any other player in this year's Six Nations.

Josh Adams marked his first match of the tournament by scoring a controversial try against England and the Wales wing will fancy his chances of touching down again in Rome.

 

ENGLAND v FRANCE

FORM

England have won nine of their 10 home games against France in the Six Nations, including the last seven in a row. Their only defeat came in February 2005, going down 18-17.

France have won seven of their last eight games in the Six Nations and will look for a fourth consecutive victory in the competition this weekend.

Les Bleus have scored the opening try of the game in 15 of their most previous 18 matches in this tournament, including their last eight in a row.

ONES TO WATCH

Wing Anthony Watson will win his 50th cap for England. He has the best average gain per carry rate (10.1 metres) of anyone to make 10 or more carries in the 2021 Six Nations and has also made the most post-contact metres (141).

France lock Paul Willemse has not missed any of his 34 tackles in the Six Nations this year and has made the joint-second most dominant tackles with four, England's Tom Curry (5) the only player to have made more.

SCOTLAND v IRELAND

FORM

Ireland have lost just three of their last 19 games against Scotland in the Six Nations, winning all the rest. Each of the men in green's defeats came by a margin of five points or fewer.

Scotland have lost their last two Test matches at Murrayfield. They have not been beaten in more consecutive games at their traditional home venue since losing four on the bounce between November 2014 and March 2015.

Gregor Townsend's side are the only team to average fewer than 10 missed tackles (8.5) per game in the Six Nations in 2021 and as a result boast the best tackle success rate of 92 per cent.

ONES TO WATCH

Hamish Watson has been an influential performer for Scotland, winning three turnovers and getting through a huge amount of work in the back row.

Ireland back-row Tadhg Beirne has recorded the most ruck arrivals (117) in the tournament, hitting the most rucks of anyone in both attack (87) and defence (30).

Expectations are high in Chicago as the White Sox set their sights on the World Series.

Gone are the days of 100-loss seasons, with 2018's 62-100 record consigned to bitter memory. The White Sox are in contention mode after catapulting themselves into the mix last year, with a rebuild firmly in the rear-view mirror following a remarkable ascent during the 2020 coronavirus-shortened MLB season.

Led by American League (AL) MVP Jose Abreu, the White Sox returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

But it is win-now for the White Sox, who swapped manager Rick Renteria for Hall of Famer Tony La Russa in pursuit of a first World Series crown in 16 years.

Liam Hendriks is another new face in Chicago as the White Sox look to emerge from the shadows of city rivals the Cubs, who claimed the ultimate prize in 2016.

All eyes are on the White Sox in 2021 and while most projections tip La Russa's team to do well, All-Star closer Hendriks and his team-mates are focused on silencing the naysayers.

There will be a limited number of White Sox fans allowed to attend their home opener on April 8 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after the team visit the Los Angeles Angels on Opening Day (April 1).

"There's been some projections that said we will be pretty good this year, but there's been some that we've taken a little offensively," Hendriks told Stats Perform News. "We're focusing more on the bad ones.

"The mindset we gotta take is 'you guys don't think we're gonna get to 95, 100 or however many wins, we're gonna prove you wrong and watch us do what we need to do and we're gonna go out there and make sure we win this division'.

"The biggest thing is making sure we prove people wrong. It's time for the city of Chicago to get on the White Sox bandwagon, it's been on the Cubs one for too long now."

The White Sox snapped a 12-year postseason drought in 2020 – officially going from rebuilder to contender.

They were the first AL team to clinch a playoff spot, but only won three of their remaining 12 regular-season games as the White Sox took their foot off the pedal.

It proved detrimental as Hendriks and the Oakland Athletics eliminated the White Sox in the Wild Card Round.

Having contributed to the White Sox's demise, 2019 All-Star Hendriks now finds himself at Guaranteed Rate Field, where the experienced Australian signed a three-year, $54million contract via free agency – a record annual average salary for a relief pitcher at $18m.

"They did a really good job with their team last season," Hendriks said. "They had a bunch of good players and guys developing they were hoping for. Hopefully we can take it into this year.

"The big thing for me is keeping the foot on the gas for as long as we can. They self-admitted that once they clinched a playoff spot last year, they kind of got too relaxed, they thought they'd made it.

"All of sudden, they went 3-12 the last two weeks and they were looking at a wildcard spot instead of hosting a series. That's big difference."

Hendriks was named Reliever of the Year in the American League in 2020 after finishing with a 3-1 record, a 1.78 ERA, a 0.67 WHIP, 14 saves (second best in MLB), 37 strikeouts and three walks over 24 appearances and 25.3 innings.

His WHIFF percentage (swings and misses/pitches) was 180 last season – sixth best in MLB last season among pitchers who faced at least 50 batters. Compared to his new White Sox team-mates, Lucas Giolito (141) was the closest to that figure, well ahead of Codi Heuer (128), Lance Lynn (125) and Dallas Keuchel (81).

"The big thing I'm hoping to bring in is that intensity. It doesn't matter, you could clinch in July but that last month of the season is more absolutely more important than anything because that's when you get the momentum going into the playoffs and that's the one thing we have to focus on," said Hendriks, who spent four years with the Athletics before moving to Chicago at the end of 2020.

"The other thing, just dealing with some of the young guys in the bullpen. They had a good first taste of the big leagues last year but this is generally the year where guys have their biggest struggles – that sophomore slump.

"They think they have it all figured out but the league makes adjustments. Being able to deal with that and bounce ideas off the veteran guys out there is important. That's why bringing in guys like Lance Lynn, who's won a ring before, is a big deal."

Hendriks joins a bullpen that boasts World Series champions in Keuchel (also an AL Cy Young Award winner) and Lynn, as well 2019 All-Star Giolito.

"The biggest thing is I'm not trying to stand out at all in this bullpen," the 32-year-old continued. "We have too many guys who can do too many special things.

"This is the part where I can lean on what has happened to me in my career. Me and Evan Marshall in the team – we've both had our ups and downs and bounced around a bit, but we've come to a position where we're at now.

"We have some guys out there who are younger, in the middle and guys like me and Evan who are a little older with kind of life experiences.

"We're not trying to stand out. We're just trying to make sure we're flowing as a unit. If one of us has a tough day, the next guy in line picks us up. That's how it's gotta be. It's not one guy coming to save the rescue, it's an entire collection.

"We're gonna have seven or eight guys out there and at certain points of the year, we're gonna have to rely on all seven or eight to get it done and making sure we have confidence in everyone at all times."

Not since 2005, when sweeping the Houston Astros in the World Series, have the White Sox reigned supreme, but Hendriks added: "I think they have the right attitude [this year]. A lot of young guys. But this is a window that's not only open for just a year, but will be open for several years. I'm excited about being a part of that. They got a little taste of it last year.

"That's generally how it goes, you get your feet wet and the next year you're ready and know what to expect and embrace it. You don't let the moment get too big for you, you just take care of business. Hopefully we can make a bit of a run at it."

Hendriks is one of the MLB's superior closers, but it has not been an easy journey for the Perth native, rather a long and winding road taking him to the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, back to the Blue Jays and then the Athletics in 2016.

It was not until landing in Oakland and some words of wisdom from a tarot card reader that Hendriks truly felt that he belonged in the big leagues.

Since taking over as the Athletics' closer on June 21 in 2019, Hendriks has recorded a 1.99 ERA over 68 innings pitched, with 39 saves, 14.7 strikeout rate and a 0.79 WHIP in 65 appearances, which all rank first in the league.

"A lot of the time, I felt like I was just there," Hendriks said. "I didn't feel like I had a place where to succeed. I put ceilings on myself. I'd cap myself in statistical categories or whether it be in the role I was at – I'm not that guy, I'll never be at that point. Just hoping to eke out here and there.

"Then I had a bit of a come to Jesus moment, where I used some different sources. My wife actually connected us with a tarot card reader – Ruby. She had no idea about baseball and she still has zero idea about baseball. But she was like, 'okay, why can't you do that?'. Then you get thinking, 'she's right, why can't I?'.  Why can't I break that record or get to his position that I thought was unattainable? You take those ceilings off and restrictions away, all of a sudden let the engine purr a little bit and look where we are.

"There was a lot of perseverance and persistence. The biggest thing for me is trying to prove people wrong. There's a lot of people out there that say I can't do it again, can't do it again, can't do it again. Now, it's going out to prove them wrong – 'you don't think I can do it again? Watch me, this is what I'm gonna do'."

Hendriks, who was close to re-joining AL rivals the Blue Jays continued: "It comes down to having a positive mindset. I had a chat with the pitchers recently. I consider myself some kind of a leader. I wanted to see where their minds are at.

"On the board, I wrote FIGJAM – f*** I'm good, just ask me. That positive mindset is one of the biggest things. If you throw a pitch with conviction, a pitch that you really want to throw, it's going to be better than a perfectly placed other pitch because you had that vibe, intensity and aggressiveness behind it.

"Convincing these guys, your pitches get people out. It's not like, okay he is usually getting a hit.

"The best hitter in the league is going to get a hit three out of 10 times, that means we win seven out of 10 times. That's the best hitter in the league. Don't ever doubt yourself against anybody.

"Pitchers are better than hitters and that's what we need to prove every time. Prove that you're better than the hitter in every single moment. That's one of the things I've taken into it. No matter what happens, you can't hit my fastball. I'm just going to keep throwing it until you get close to it, then all of a sudden, I'll pull the string and throw something else.

"It's a little cat and mouse game but you have to have the confidence behind it."

Hendriks is somewhat of a ninth-inning specialist, having recorded a 1.42 ERA (third), 0.68 WHIP (first) last season in 19 games. Over the course of his career, he has managed 95 games in the ninth inning – only tallying more in the seventh inning since entering MLB.

Since 2018, Hendriks tops the list for ERA (1.81) in the ninth inning among pitchers to have pitched 50 innings, while his WHIP figure (0.80) is only second to Josh Hader (0.77).

So, is there an advantage to having a traditional closer as opposed to a more analytic or committee approach?

"I think there is," Hendriks insisted. "I may be a bit biased because I want the ninth inning. Just purely based on the fact that you'll see guys and they will be really good in the highest leveraged situations throughout the game or anything and then they struggle in the ninth inning. It's a different mindset, different way of approaching the ball.

"In saying that, it gives some fluidly. All of a sudden, if you're up by three, you know you're getting the ninth. If you know you're getting the ninth, you prepare for that inning. If you're not sure when you're going to pitch between the sixth and the ninth, the preparation gets a little different.

"Some guys are good at it, some guys aren't. I think any time you give a guy a certain role, it's easier to adapt. If you get that consistent role, you know what you need to do to get ready."

Data and artificial intelligence continue to play a huge role in MLB, and Hendriks added: "I have two separate ways of looking at it. I love the analytical side off the field because I love to be able to be able to compare and look at something and be like, 'okay, what was I doing when I was good, what was I doing when I was bad? What is the difference and this is one area I need to focus on'. Whether it be, for me, release height, release extension point, the spin axis, the spin rate and all that fun stuff.

"And as soon as the game hits, I don't know a single thing. I want to be as stupid as I can on the mound because as soon as you start overthinking things, you just start thinking that, you'll come up with some negative ideas and it snowballs.

"For me, I love the analytical stuff off field and ways to get better, but on the field, I want to be as dumb as possible. I use a company and they print out these little maps. The maps are colour-coordinated – get in the blue, blue is good and red is bad. It's the easiest thing for me to remember.

"I pull up my piece of paper in the bullpen, be like okay, so and so are coming up – blue, blue, blue. I don't even look at the red. I just notice where the blue is. So it's okay, fast balls up this guy is good. Easy. then I don't have to worry about anything else.

"It's a lot easier to play the game when you're not having to worry about anything else and letting everything take over."

There were 124 years of All-Star experience at last weekend's showcase game between Team LeBron and Team Durant in Atlanta. 

The Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine was responsible for one of those years. 

And of all the exceptional players at last weekend's event, the first-time All-Star from the Bulls is one of the more intriguing. 

While several All-Stars are future Hall of Famers – the Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul just to name a few – and others are young and established stars – the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic, Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons – LaVine is a veteran who is suddenly developing into a superstar. 

In fact, over the past five weeks, no one is scoring more than LaVine, who is averaging a league-best 32.3 points since February 6, while making exactly half of his 104 three-point attempts. 

He's been so spectacular he's played himself into max contract talk, although other discussions have had his name in various trade rumours if the rebuilding Bulls do not plan to sign him to an extension before his contract expires in 2022. 

Now in his fourth season in Chicago after spending his first three with the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaVine has the Bulls in position to participate in the Play-In Tournament and possibly earn their first postseason berth since 2016-17. 

He has the Bulls on the cusp of the playoffs behind a breakout season in which he is averaging career highs in every major category – 28.7 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 5.1 assists per game and 3.5 made three-pointers per game, while shooting 52.5 per cent on all field goals and 43.5 per cent on threes. 

If those numbers look impressive, that is because they have only been reached once before in a single season in NBA history. 

LaVine joins Stephen Curry from 2015-16 as the only players ever to average 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds, five-plus assists and three-plus made three-pointers per game, while shooting 50 per cent on field goals and 40 per cent on threes. Curry won his second MVP that season while leading the Warriors to a record 73 wins. 

While Curry was already an established star at that point after winning league MVP honours and an NBA title the season prior, LaVine is unexpectedly proving that he also belongs among the upper echelon of players in the league. 

He has transformed himself into one of the league's most dangerous scorers, capable of knocking down a three-pointer, pulling up and hitting a mid-range jumper or beating his man off the dribble and finishing at the rim. 

Coming out of the All-Star break, his 167 dunks and layups are seventh-most in the NBA – and the most by any guard. And while the six-foot-six LaVine was also among the league leaders in dunks and layups last season (11th with 287), he is finishing at higher rate. 

He is converting 64.2 per cent of his dunk and layup attempts this season after making 57.4 per cent of his attempts last season, and that increase in field goal percentage of 6.8 is the eighth largest by any player six-foot-six or shorter. 

While many of the leaders among dunks and layups are big men – New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson, Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jazz centre Rudy Gobert – who live in the paint, the dynamic LaVine is just as much of a threat to knock down a three-pointer. 

His 120 made three-pointers rank fifth in the league and he is the league's only player with more than 120 dunks and layups and 90 threes. 

It is one thing to have made a lot of threes but another to actually be an efficient shooter – the Sacramento Kings' Buddy Hield has made 20 more three-pointers than LaVine but has hoisted up 94 more attempts – and LaVine has refined his shooting touch and is deadly from beyond the arc. 

He is hitting 43.8 per cent of his three-point attempts from the wing and his 53.8 per cent shooting from the corner ranks sixth in the league among the 103 players with at least 30 attempts.   

Overall, LaVine is shooting 43.5 per cent on three-pointers, an increase of 0.55 per cent from the perimeter from last season – the eighth-largest improvement in the NBA among players with at least 150 three-point attempts this season and last. 

The mid-range shot is somewhat of a lost art in the current game with the added weight given to a shot from a few feet further back beyond the arc, but it still has a place and if a shooter can connect from mid-range with regularity he becomes all the more threatening to score. 

LaVine has found his touch from mid-range, making 44.6 per cent of those shots this season after hitting at a 31.9 per cent clip last season. That increase of 12.7 per cent is the sixth-largest in the NBA among 73 shooters who have attempted at least 50 mid-range shots this season and last. 

Shooters shoot, and LaVine is thriving. His effective field goal percentage of 61.5 ranks second in the NBA among all guards. 

His all-round offensive game is one of the most complete in the league, and opposing defences are tasked with game planning against him, giving him similar treatment as they would give Curry or James, as he is a threat to score from anywhere on the court. 

Curry and James, however, have won multiple MVPs and titles. LaVine is certainly putting up MVP-type numbers, but the Bulls are not in the championship conversation. 

At the moment, at least. 

Chicago are only two games back of the Boston Celtics for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and are viewed as a team on the rise under first-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan. Instead of trading LaVine as was being speculated weeks ago, it is possible Chicago will be buyers at the March 25 trade deadline in their pursuit of a playoff berth. 

And if LaVine continues to excel and Chicago continue to improve over the next few seasons, MVP awards and NBA titles might not be out of the question for LaVine and the Bulls. 

Diego Simeone has overtaken Luis Aragones for the most wins ever as head coach of Atletico Madrid.

The Argentine coach picked up his 309th victory in charge in Wednesday's 2-1 comeback win against Athletic Bilbao - a result that moves Atleti six points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Iker Munian had given Athletic the lead at the Wanda Metropolitano, but Marcos Llorente equalised late in the first half and Luis Suarez converted a penalty early in the second.

Simeone's latest win came in his 514th match in charge. Aragones, the only other man to have taken charge of more games, reached 308 wins in 612 matches.

Atleti have drawn 121 times and lost 84 games under Simeone, who took over in December 2011 and has gone on to be their most successful manager of all time.

#OnThisDay in 2011, @Simeone took over.

499 games
300 wins
LaLiga
Europa League
UEFA Super Cup
Copa del Rey
Spanish Super Cup

#AúpaAtleti pic.twitter.com/6U8bdMUwX2

— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) December 23, 2020 TROPHIES

Aragones, a star for Atletico as a player, won six trophies as head coach. Simeone, with seven, is the only man with more.

In a little over nine years in charge, the former Argentina midfielder has led Atletico to two UEFA Super Cups, two Europa Leagues, one Supercopa de Espana, one Copa del Rey and, most famously, their only LaLiga title in the past 25 years back in 2013-14.

Simeone has helped to tip the balance of power somewhat in Spain's capital. He is the only coach to have won three finals against Real Madrid in three different competitions: the Copa del Rey (2013), the Supercopa de Espana (2014) and the UEFA Super Cup (2018).

He has twice faced them in the Champions League final, too, losing after extra time in 2014 and on penalties two years later.


TRAILBLAZING

Among South American coaches, only Helenio Herrera (359) has taken charge of more LaLiga matches than Simeone (353).

All of those have been with Atletico, of course. There are just two coaches to oversee more LaLiga games at a single club: Aragones at Atletico (407) and Miguel Munoz at Real Madrid (424).

Munoz won 357 of his 605 games in charge of Los Blancos in all competitions, so Simeone has a little way to go to surpass that tally. Still, he has already won more games than Barcelona record-holder Johan Cruyff, who won 244 times out of 421 matches.

TITANS

Antoine Griezmann is the player to score the most goals under Simeone at Atletico, with 133 in all competitions.

The rest of the top five includes Diego Costa (75), Radamel Falcao (58), Koke (44) and Saul Niguez (43).

Koke leads the way for assists, with 95, comfortably clear of Griezmann (46), Gabi (44), Angel Correa (43) and Juanfran (32).

The NBA is back in action after the All-Star break, with an enticing Western Conference matchup on deck on Thursday.

While the Golden State Warriors are far from being the force they were at the peak of their dynasty, an incredible season from Stephen Curry is keeping them firmly in the playoff hunt.

Curry's remarkable scoring talents and his stunning shooting from three-point range can be an equaliser in any game and means the Los Angeles Clippers, despite their superior place in the standings, can take little for granted at Staples Center.

The Clippers go into this clash on a four-game losing streak and will need Kawhi Leonard – enjoying his best shooting season since 2013-14 by converting on 51.1 per cent of his attempts from the field – and Paul George to be at their best to avoid that run being extended.

TOP PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry

It may be predictable to identify Curry as the key man for the Warriors but, if they are to make the playoffs, it is going to be a case of him against the world.

Curry is coming off a spectacular performance at the All-Star Game, where he won the three-point contest for a second time before playing a starring role in Team LeBron's victory.

He has an average of 24.7 points per game for his career against the Clippers and put up 38 in the previous meeting between the two.

Curry will be out for a repeat performance in his first game versus the Clippers in LA since January 2019.

Los Angeles Clippers - Paul George

George was also on the winning team at the All-Star game in Atlanta, having played a pivotal role alongside Leonard for the Clippers.

For Los Angeles, George is the player whose presence on the court appears to have the biggest impact, given he leads the team with a plus-minus rating of 8.6

He is also the player best suited to help the Clippers keep pace if Curry begins a deluge from beyond the arc. George leads the Clippers in three-point attempts (7.8 per game) and is shooting 45 per cent from deep.

His effective field goal percentage of 60.4 is also a team-high and ranks above that of Curry (59.5).

KEY BATTLE - WARRIORS MUST LIMIT SECOND CHANCES

The weakness of the Warriors continues to be on the boards. Golden State is second last in total defensive rebounds this season with 1,381.

As a result of their inability to dominate on the glass, only one team – the Brooklyn Nets (556) – have given up more second-chance points than the Warriors (526).

The Clippers have racked up 485 second-chance points this term, 10th in the NBA, and with the consistency with which Leonard and George are shooting the ball, the game could get away from the Warriors in a hurry if they allow Los Angeles to dictate on the boards.

HEAD TO HEAD

The two teams split the first pair of games in San Francisco this season, the Warriors bouncing back with a 115-105 win two days after suffering a 108-101 defeat.

That victory ended a run of four successive losses to the Clippers that stretched back to October 2019.

Only two of the last seven games between the Warriors and Clippers have been decided by single digits, indicating a close encounter may not be in the offing.

For the teams that have to watch the confetti fall on their opponent at the end of an arduous season, the Super Bowl hangover is no myth.

Ask any number of teams to have come up short on the biggest stage and then gone on to endure a nightmare subsequent campaign, they will confirm its legitimacy.

The 2020 San Francisco 49ers experienced perhaps the most severe hangover of any Super Bowl runner-up in the modern era, and little of it was their own doing.

San Francisco suffered from an utterly remarkable injury crisis. In a year where every team in the league was impacted by the coronavirus, the Niners had to deal with the core of one of the most talented rosters in the league being decimated.

Having seen three opt out before the start of the season, the Niners had 40 players placed on either the injured reserve, physically unable to perform, or reserve/COVID-19 list over the course of the year.

The scale of the injury crisis left head coach Kyle Shanahan and those on his roster who stayed healthy fighting an uphill battle to reach the postseason.

It was a fight they ultimately lost despite a very admirable effort, finishing 6-10, leaving San Francisco with significant questions to answer this offseason.

Using Stats Perform data, we look back on a season defined by misfortune and look ahead to what the 49ers must do in free agency and the draft to ensure they are back in the postseason in 2021.

Offense

Keeping your starting quarterback healthy is imperative to success on offense, but the 49ers rarely had their top option, Jimmy Garoppolo, available at 100 per cent in 2020.

Garoppolo suffered a high ankle sprain in a fateful Week 2 win over the New York Jets and never truly recovered.

He featured in only six games and did not build a convincing case that he deserves to remain the starter long term.

The former New England Patriot completed 94 of his 140 passes for 1,096 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Garoppolo's interception percentage of 3.6 was the third-highest among players to have attempted at least 100 throws.

One of the two players above him on that list was his backup, Nick Mullens (3.7), whose turnovers helped end San Francisco's hopes of qualifying for the playoffs.

Mullens committed 16 giveaways, 12 of those coming on interceptions, with no team conceding more takeaway points than the Niners' 124.

Those turnovers tilted contests in which the undermanned Niners were generally competitive in their opponents' favour and limited the upside of an offense that still finished in the top half in yards per play (5.66) and passing yards per play (6.62) despite the absences of Garoppolo, All-Pro tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel for much of the season.

Yet the fact Mullens still managed to finish the season 15th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt (7.48) is illustrative of the ceiling of Shanahan's offense.

Samuel (12.09) led the league in yards after catch per reception among receivers with at least 10 catches, while no rookie caught more red-zone touchdowns than Brandon Aiyuk (5).

When it is healthy, the Niners' offense can still be one of the most dynamic in football.

However, it requires a durable quarterback who takes care of the ball and, in 2021, will need more of a boost from a running game that was minus NFC Championship Game hero Raheem Mostert for most of the year, San Francisco finishing 16th in yards per rush (4.32) having been ninth in 2019.

Ensuring the 49ers possess those offensive necessities in 2021 will be paramount given the amount of turnover their top-10 defense looks set to experience.

Defense

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh earned a head coaching job with the Jets on the back of the efforts of his depleted defense in 2020.

Minus 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, who tore his ACL against the Jets, Saleh kept a defense that saw its cast of characters consistently rotate due to injuries and Covid issues in the top 10.

The 49ers ranked fifth in opponent yards per play allowed (5.05), with San Francisco extremely stingy against the run, giving up an average of 3.96 yards per carry that only five teams bettered.

Though the offense's tendency to turn the ball over consistently put the defense in bad positions, the 49ers were the fourth-best team in the league at keeping opposing offenses out of the endzone.

San Francisco gave up touchdowns on 37 of the 183 offensive drives faced in a season where the Niners' opponents had the eighth-best average starting field position in the NFL.

The 49ers' secondary consistently rose to the task when challenged by opposing passing attacks, with the 44 passing plays of 20 or more yards San Francisco gave up tied for the sixth-fewest in the league.

Their efforts in keeping opposing passing attacks in check were helped by the performances of unheralded edge rusher Kerry Hyder, who compensated somewhat for Bosa's absence with 8.5 sacks and a combined total of 53.5 knockdowns and hurries, tied for 20th in the league.

However, that was some way short of the 81.5 Bosa had a year ago, and the fact the Niners were still one of the better pass defenses in the NFL despite finishing 22nd in sacks (30), 28th in hurries (144) and 27th in knockdowns (68) speaks to the high level of performance from the secondary.

Yet the odds of keeping that secondary together in a pivotal offseason look slim.

Offseason

The 49ers have been publicly supportive of Garoppolo despite his struggles in staying on the field, but there is still significant doubt as to whether Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will double down on that backing and stick with him as their signal-caller in 2021.

Having said to have been interested in Matthew Stafford before he was traded to NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers are also reported to have called about the availability of Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Frequently mentioned as a possible destination for disgruntled Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson and Sam Darnold of the Jets, the Niners at the very least appear to be open to the possibility of putting a fresh face at quarterback, and they would have significant financial motivation for moving on from Garoppolo.

The Niners are in a better position than most when it comes to the salary cap. They are scheduled to be over $26million under the $182.5m salary cap, but parting ways with Garoppolo would free up just shy of $24m in extra room and give San Francisco additional flexibility with which to keep hold of a plethora of free agents.

Thirty-one members of the 2020 roster are scheduled for free agency, including every cornerback who took a defensive snap last season.

Re-signing All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams is the priority for San Francisco, with corner Jason Verrett likely to be next on the list following a superb comeback season after years of injury frustration.

Richard Sherman is not expected to be back and the futures of key contributors like Kyle Juszczyk and Jaquiski Tartt are more clouded.

San Francisco's list of needs in the draft could therefore be long but the upside of their hangover is that it landed them the 12th overall pick.

That puts the Niners potentially in the conversation for one of the top quarterbacks in the class should they indeed want an alternative to Garoppolo, and they are in an excellent spot to land a premium player at a number of positions, with corner, edge rusher and interior offensive line all areas in need of reinforcement.

Getting Bosa back and hopefully avoiding an astronomical level of injuries will go a long way to putting the Niners back in playoff contention.

Yet with several departures likely on defense and first-time coordinator DeMeco Ryans taking over for Saleh, the 49ers may not be able to rely on that side of the ball to do the heavy lifting as it has often done over the past two years.

That means the 49ers can ill-afford more uncertainty at quarterback and puts the wisdom of keeping a signal-caller who has missed 23 games with the team due to injury into serious question. Garoppolo's durability concerns have held back what should be one of the most consistently devastating offenses in the NFL.

With clear avenues to make a change at the most important position, how far the Niners go in 2021 hinges largely on their level of belief in a quarterback who had them seven minutes from Super Bowl LIV glory.

Last season's beaten finalists Paris Saint-Germain are red-hot favourites to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals when Barcelona visit the Parc des Princes for the second leg of their last-16 clash on Wednesday. 

Mauricio Pochettino's side hold a three-goal advantage after Kylian Mbappe's hat-trick helped them seal a stunning 4-1 win over Barca in the first leg last month.

Liverpool are in a strong position to join them in the last eight, with Jurgen Klopp's side taking on RB Leipzig at Anfield after running out 2-0 winners in the reverse fixture. 

The German club, though, might just fancy their chances of causing an upset against the Premier League champions, who have lost six of their last eight matches across all competitions. 

We used Opta numbers to preview the two clashes.

Paris Saint-Germain (4) v (1) Barcelona: Blaugrana out to make history

Barca will have to make history if they are to book the most unlikely of last-eight places, with no side ever having progressed in the competition after losing the first leg at home by a margin of three goals.

The game marks the first Champions League meeting between the sides at the Parc des Princes since February 2017, when the Ligue 1 team recorded a 4-0 victory. 

That remains PSG's biggest margin of victory in a home knockout game in the competition, while it is also Barca's joint-heaviest defeat in a knockout game away from home in the competition (also 0-4 against Liverpool in May 2019 and against Bayern in April 2013).

While the onus is on Barca to score freely, do not be surprised to see the hosts do just that themselves. They have netted at least once in each of their last 22 Champions League games at home (61 goals), in a run that dates back to December 2015. 

Spearheading their attack will be Mbappe, who will become the youngest player to reach 25 goals in the Champions League if he scores (aged 22 years and 80 days), taking the record from Lionel Messi. 

Barca talisman Messi has only ended on the losing side in four of the 75 Champions League games he has scored in. However, half of these have come against PSG – the first-leg defeat and a 3-2 loss at the Parc des Princes in September 2014.

Should Messi and his team-mates slip to defeat it will mark the first time the LaLiga giants have lost three Champions League matches in a row.

Liverpool (2) v (0) RB Leipzig: Reds have the edge over German opposition 

With a two-goal advantage from the first leg, Liverpool will expect to continue their run of never having been eliminated from a Champions League knockout tie after winning away from home in the first leg.

The game will be the 21st time the Reds have hosted German opposition across all European competitions. They are unbeaten in the previous 20 of those (16 wins, four draws), scoring 52 goals and conceding just nine.  

Central to their chances of extending that run will be two players who have enjoyed themselves in the Champions League in recent seasons. 

Since the start of the 2017-18 campaign, Roberto Firmino is one of only three players in double figures for both goals (15) and assists (11) in the competition, along with Messi and Mbappe. 

Mohamed Salah, meanwhile, is Liverpool's top scorer in the competition, netting 23 goals in 40 games for the Reds. If he scores a brace in this game, he will reach 25 goals for an English club in the second-fewest appearances, following Ruud van Nistelrooy for Manchester United (27).

If Leipzig are to have any chance of causing an upset they will need to improve dramatically on their last away clash with an English side, the Bundesliga club suffering their heaviest defeat in European competition against Manchester United at Old Trafford back in October (0-5).

Only four of their 12 wins in the Champions League have been achieved by more than a one-goal margin (33 per cent).

However, the last time they won by two or more goals in the knockout stages of the competition was against Spurs last season (3-0 in the last-16 second leg).

The Los Angeles Rams have never been afraid to take big swings, and they will be hoping the one they took back in late January will get them over the hump.

Los Angeles handed the keys to an offense that can be one of the most explosive in football to Matthew Stafford, parting ways with Jared Goff and some significant draft capital to acquire him from the Detroit Lions.

Stafford joins a team that was two wins away from the Super Bowl last season, the Rams undone by league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The Rams are gambling that Stafford's arrival gets them back to the sport's grandest stage.

However, the financial pressures facing Los Angeles mean the Rams' roster is likely to look very different in 2021.

What will their remodelled group need to do to realise their ambitions next season?

Here we try to answer that question by looking back at the Rams' 2020 campaign using Stats Perform data.

Offense

It is not difficult to see why Sean McVay lost patience with Goff, the number one overall pick of the Rams in the 2016 draft.

The Rams finished the season 18th in yards per play with 5.54, their second successive year outside the top 10 in that regard having been second in 2018 (6.36) when they reached the Super Bowl.

Goff's inability to hang on to the football played a contributing role in their struggles to move the ball more efficiently.

His 17 giveaways were tied for the fourth-most in the NFL while 73 of his 182 incompletions were down to poor throws. Only nine quarterbacks delivered more poor throws in 2020.

Just 14 of Goff's incompletions were drops, tied for 20th among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts, indicating his receivers were relatively reliable.

Goff had decent success going downfield. His passer rating of 103.4 on throws of 21 or more air yards ranked 10th among quarterbacks to have attempted 25 such throws.

Stafford, however, ranked fifth with a rating of 118.5 and attempted 57 such passes to Goff's 36 at a better completion percentage (35.1 to 33.3), illustrating his greater willingness to push the ball deep and his superior prowess as a downfield thrower.

The Rams will want to give Stafford more support than Goff received from the running game, which averaged 4.27 yards per attempt last year, putting them 17th in the NFL.

Cam Akers' progress could be key in that regard. The 2020 second-round pick came on strong down the stretch and proved himself a big-play threat.

He had four rushes of at least 20 yards with his average distance of 41.8 yards on those carries the most among rookie running backs to have more than one such attempt.

But any progress the offense makes may be cancelled out if the defense takes a step back from its position among the league's elite.

Defense

By many measures, the Rams had the best defense in football last season.

Los Angeles ranked first in opponent yards per play allowed (4.56) in 2020, with their dominance encompassing both the passing game and the run game.

Indeed, the Rams allowed the least passing yards per play (5.08) and the third-least rushing yards per play (3.76).

Just 46.8 per cent of offensive plays run against them were successful, with only three defenses performing better by that measure. The Rams were the third-best team in the league at stopping teams on the critical third and fourth downs, allowing a success rate of 35.9 per cent.

Their numbers in terms of takeaways were not quite as impressive, the Rams finishing with 22, seven shy of the league-high 29 set by the Miami Dolphins.

Though the Rams perhaps did not take the ball away as much as they would have liked, Los Angeles still excelled at preventing opponents from scoring.

Los Angeles finished the year first in opponent scoring efficiency, allowing scores on 51 of 183 opponent drives.

The Rams' defense was led by another Defensive Player of Year effort from star defensive lineman Aaron Donald.

Donald's sack total of 13.5 was a low number by his lofty standards, but he was the clear leader in knockdowns and hurries, his combined total of 94.5 comfortably outstripping the man he beat to the DPOY award, T.J. Watt (83).

There is little to suggest Donald will not continue to dominate but, for the Rams to remain the league's best on defense, they will need to adapt to the loss of coordinator Brandon Staley - who was replaced by Raheem Morris - and the likely departures of several key pieces.

Offseason

The Rams' move to land Stafford came at a high price, leaving them with a distinct lack of capital with which to furnish the roster around him.

Los Angeles traded a third-round pick this year along with first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 to acquire Stafford, leaving them without a first-round selection until 2024.

With Donald and Jalen Ramsey in place for the long term, the defense looks in pretty good hands, but it may be a little top-heavy given the talent the Rams look likely to lose on that side of the ball.

Safety John Jonson, cornerbacks Darious Williams and Troy Hill, and edge rusher Leonard Floyd are all set to hit the market in a year where the Rams are projected to be nearly $30million over an assumed salary cap of $185m.

Replenishing those positions, and sourcing a replacement for unrestricted free agent guard Austin Blythe, will be priorities for the Rams, along with finding a deep threat who can help them harness the most of Stafford's upside throwing the deep ball.

The problem is that the Rams, as it stands, only have three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft with which to add to their group.

That number will go up when compensatory selections are factored into the equation, but the reality is that the Rams will not be as deep as in previous years.

Los Angeles will need to get creative to bolster the roster this offseason, yet the fate of the Rams' 2021 campaign rests predominantly on the success of their bet on Stafford to be a significant upgrade on the quarterback they were so eager to ship out.

As was the case a year earlier, Derrick Henry's tremendous performances on the ground could only take the 2020 Tennessee Titans so far in the playoffs.

Running back Henry was once again the star as the Titans returned to the postseason with an 11-5 record, their best since 2008 – also the last time they had won the AFC South.

But having come up short against eventual champions the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Championship Game, Tennessee fell at the first hurdle this time.

The Baltimore Ravens, still hurting from their shock defeat against Henry and Co the previous season, prevailed 20-13 in the Wild Card round.

So the Titans must regroup again ahead of the 2021 campaign, surely again looking to Henry to provide their spark while negotiating a challenging offseason.

The league's Offensive Player of the Year will certainly need some help, as our study with Stats Perform data shows.

Offense

It came as no surprise that the Titans ranked as high as second in rushing yards last season (168.1 per game) given Henry's incredible consistency.

There was not a rushing metric in which Henry did not lead the NFL, attempting 378 rushes, at 23.6 per game, for 2,027 yards (126.7 per game) and 17 touchdowns – league-high marks across the board.

Tennessee rushed on 50.5 per cent of plays – ranking third – and Henry carried the load almost single-handedly. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was next for total yardage with 266.

But the flaws in this approach were laid bare by the Ravens, who got to grips with Henry.

He was restricted to 18 attempts for just 40 yards. Only once in his NFL career – in a Week 17 win over Jacksonville in 2017 – had Henry previously averaged less than 2.2 yards with 18 rushes or more.

This reliance on Henry in their biggest games ultimately proved damaging, even as the rest of the offense also largely performed well.

Tannehill finished the year with a passer rating of 106.5 – fifth in the NFL – but he threw fewer passes (481) than any other QB to start 16 games, while the Titans were 23rd in net passing yards (228.3 per game).

Wide receivers A.J. Brown (70 receptions for 1,075 yards and 11 TDs) and Corey Davis (65 receptions for 984 yards and five TDs) each put up impressive career-best numbers, yet they ranked joint-32nd and joint-38th respectively for catches.

With the focus on Henry, their season stopped when he was slowed.

Defense

Even with Baltimore impressively handling Henry, a rare bad game might have been less of an issue had the defense been able to hold up.

Across the regular season, the Titans ranked 28th for opponent yards per game (398.3), including 277.4 net passing yards per game, 29th best in the league.

The franchise paid the price for some big free agency misses in the form of edge rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Jadeveon Clowney, who signed one-year contracts worth a combined $22.2million and failed to contribute a single sack between them.

Clowney played eight games before he was placed on injured reserve due to a knee injury, while Beasley showed up late to training camp and played just five times before he was released.

A defensive unit that shared a locker room with the best running back in the sport was at least slightly better at disrupting their opponents' ground game, but they still allowed 120.8 rushing yards per game (19th in the league).

As a result, too often Tennessee could not get their opponents off the field and put the ball in Henry's hands.

Opponents spent 31 minutes and 32 seconds in possession on average (27th in the league), while the Titans recorded only 19 sacks, ranking 30th.

Even on the rare occasions they did successfully put teams under pressure, the Titans were dead last in third-down stops. A massive 51.9 per cent of third downs against them were converted, including 42.6 per cent of attempts of six yards or more and 37.7 per cent of 10 yards or more.

Offseason

There is lots to do before the new season starts if the Titans are to be competitive again. Indeed, the scale of the task might well mean a Super Bowl run is beyond them in 2021, even with Henry a force once more.

Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's departure to Atlanta, where he will be the Falcons' head coach, prompted the promotion of Todd Downing to a role he has served in for only one year previously, with the Raiders in 2017.

And he will have his work cut out if the Titans are to come close to maintaining last season's standard.

The team declined Davis' fifth-year option prior to his career-best year, making him an unrestricted free agent, while tight ends Jonnu Smith (eight TDs in 2020) and Anthony Firkser are also leaving. Slot receiver Adam Humphries, injured and expensive last year, will be less of a miss.

It means Brown is the only remaining Titan to have posted more than 200 receiving yards for the team in 2020.

On defense, meanwhile, the short-lived failures of Clowney and Beasley mean there is again a gaping hole at the edge position.

Tennessee have just $10.6m of cap room to work with and, although they at least still have their draft picks, some tough weeks and months lie ahead.

It is time for the Jacksonville Jaguars to turn this thing around.

Losing suited the Jags last season as their miserable 1-15 record, combined with the New York Jets' inexplicable late rally to 2-14, secured the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Jacksonville are expected to take quarterback Trevor Lawrence to join new head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke. Then they must find a way of competing once more after a year of accepting defeat.

Yet this was not merely a 12-month slump; the Jags have had a winning record just once since 2007, losing the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots in 2017.

There is lots of work to do, but Lawrence - tipped as a generational talent - gives them a fantastic platform to build from at the most important position.

We use Stats Perform data to review the 2020 season and identify how Lawrence might be able to lead this team to success.

Offense

It is not quite as simple as Lawrence alone re-energising an offense that scored just 306 points last year, ranking 30th in the league.

The Jaguars need not have been quite as bad under center as that statistic suggests, having benched Gardner Minshew II, their best QB, after seven weeks.

He had led the team to their sole Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts, throwing three touchdowns, and was a relatively solid performer in a poor team. Minshew averaged 251 yards per game.

But Lawrence will be expected to find wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and D.J. Chark Jr. on a more regular basis. Along with Keelan Cole Sr., they led Jacksonville with five receiving TDs but Shenault's 58 catches represented a very low team high.

The new QB will want better protection as he aims to improve the team's passing offense, with the Jags' 2020 passers collectively sacked on 44 occasions, tied for just the 25th best rate in the NFL.

There will certainly be pressure on Lawrence, who threw for 3,153 yards in 10 games for Clemson in 2020, to deliver the goods through the air, with no team in the league turning to their running game less often than Jacksonville.

A meagre 33.8 per cent of their plays went on the ground, where they found an impressive rookie in running back James Robinson (240 rushes for 1,070 yards and three TDs) but not much else.

Defense

If Lawrence provides a big boost on offense, what is the fix on defense?

Because no amount of talent at QB can drag the Jaguars into contention if they continue to perform so poorly out of possession.

While Jacksonville were reluctant to run the ball on offense, they faced rushes on defense more often than any other team (on 48.4 per cent of plays).

In truth, though, their opponents' play selection mattered little as they found a route through regardless. The Jags gave up 417.7 total yards per game, fewer only than the Detroit Lions.

There was a clear lack of talent on defense in 2020, and even Dawuane Smoot, their sack leader with 5.5, could now be on the way out in free agency.

Cornerback C.J. Henderson will at least be back after injury cut short a rookie season in which he showed signs of promise, recording 27 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble across eight games.

But new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen needs help if he is to recreate the aggressive approach used by the Baltimore Ravens, where he was defensive line coach for the past four years.

Offseason

The roster that ended the 2020 season provided little cause for optimism. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they now have the number one pick and a huge amount of cap space to work with.

Assuming a $185million cap, Jacksonville still have around $86m to spend. They will need it, even if Lawrence, in the draft, provides the most straightforward first fix.

Offensive depth is required to assist the exciting new QB, with slot receiver Cole set for free agency while the tight end unit scored a combined two TDs last season – both supplied by 31-year-old Tyler Eifert – and still needs a blocking option.

In Shenault, Chark and Robinson, they at least have starters secured at WR and RB, especially given there are greater priorities elsewhere.

Investment at offensive tackle to protect Lawrence would boost the rookie, but those priorities lie mainly on defense.

They will need more than Henderson alone at corner and major improvement at safety is a must, as is finding a way to somehow slow their opponents' running offense.

The Jags have some exciting opportunities this offseason, but they are starting from a low base and Lawrence should only be the first of many talented new faces as the team eye a quick turnaround.

The Champions League round-of-16 second legs get underway on Tuesday, with Porto and Borussia Dortmund holding the upper hand over Juventus and Sevilla respectively.

Juve's latest bid to bring their domestic dominance to bear on the European stage is hanging by a thread, with Sergio Conceicao's robust side arriving in Turin 2-1 to the good.

If that tie is on a knife edge, Dortmund's task looks slightly more straightforward on paper – their 3-2 first-leg win having come on the road at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

However, Edin Terzic's side might be wounded by their sapping Klassiker loss to Bayern Munich at the weekend and Sevilla boast formidable European pedigree. Stranger things have definitely happened.

So, to help you navigate the potential madness, we take a closer look at both matches using Opta data.

 

Juventus (1) v (2) Porto: Ronaldo aiming to break the shackles

On his return to his homeland, Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo found himself unusually frustrated during the first leg.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner managed just one shot – his lowest return in a Champions League knockout match since he failed to register a shot on goal during the second leg of the 2010-11 semi-final between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

However, Federico Chiesa's crucial late away goal at the Estadio do Dragao snapped a run of five consecutive clean sheets in this season's competition for Porto, who are looking to achieve three consecutive shutouts on the road for the first time since November 2012.

Nevertheless, history is still weighted against the Primeira Liga club finishing the job.

Porto are winless in their previous 13 away games in the Champions League knockout stages, drawing four and losing nine.

You have to go back to a 3-2 win over Milan in 1996 for their most recent victory in Italy, with five defeats on the spin since then.

On the other hand, Juventus have been eliminated on five of the past six occasions they lost the first leg of a Champions League tie.

The exception came when a Ronaldo hat-trick wiped out Atletico Madrid's 2-0 advantage two seasons ago.

Once again, the 36-year-old looks their most likely hero. Ronaldo has 10 goals in 10 Champions League games for Juve at the Allianz Stadium. Only Lionel Messi (14) has more home goals over the period from the start of the 2018-19 campaign onwards.

 

Borussia Dortmund (3) v (2) Sevilla: Haaland at the double again?

Erling Haaland is at the opposite end of his Champions League journey to Ronaldo but certainly seems to have designs on emulating some of the veteran's great deeds and might even breach new ground this week.

The Dortmund striker has scored a brace in each of his past three Champions League appearances. If he nets another double against Sevilla, he will become the first player in the history of the competition to score twice in four consecutive appearances.

Haaland has 18 goals in 13 Champions League outings overall and appears certain to surpass Harry Kane as the quickest man to 20 in terms of games. The England captain reached the landmark in his 24th appearance.

Dortmund are aiming to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2017 and are unbeaten in seven Champions League matches at Signal Iduna Park (W5 D2).

Sevilla have never gone through in Europe's top competition after losing the first leg of a knockout tie, going down to Real Madrid in 1957-58, Fenerbahce in 2007-08 and Bayern Munich in 2017-18.

Since beating Borussia Monchengladbach 3-0 in 2015, the Andalusian club have lost three out of four against Bundesliga opponents.

Head coach Julen Lopetegui has similarly unhelpful memories of Germany, having lost his only previous Champions League away match in the country 6-1 when he led Porto against Bayern Munich.

All good things must come to an end, and that proved the case for Manchester City on Sunday.

Their remarkable winning run of 21 games in all competitions came to an end with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United in the derby.

City hold an 11-point lead over their neighbours at the top of the Premier League, however, and the real battle seems set to be for Champions League places.

Tottenham boosted their hopes with a 4-1 thrashing of Crystal Palace, with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min combining for a record-setting goal, while Liverpool's dismal form continued as they suffered a sixth successive home defeat. Fortress Anfield is well and truly a thing of the past.

At the bottom, West Brom and Newcastle United played out a goalless draw. We take a look at the best Opta facts from Sunday's games.

 

Manchester City 0-2 Manchester United: Winning streak grinds to a halt

If there was one team City did not want their incredible run of wins to come to an end against, it would have been United.

It was the first time City have lost since November, when they went down 2-0 at home to Spurs, ending a run of 28 games without a defeat across all competitions. Pep Guardiola's team had won their last 21 in total, including 15 in the league, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have the better of his counterpart.

United have won three consecutive away games in all competitions at City for the first time since a run of four between November 1993 and November 2000, and among the managers Guardiola has faced more than three times across all competitions as a top-flight boss, Solskjaer is the only one to have beaten the Spaniard (four) more often than he has lost to him.

Solskjaer is also the first manager in United's history to win each of his first three away meetings in all competitions with City. Since the start of the 2019-20 season, three of City's five home defeats in all competitions have come against United.

The Norwegian is now the only manager to have won three away games against sides managed by Guardiola.

Bruno Fernandes scored the opener from the penalty spot inside two minutes. Since his Premier League debut in February 2020, he has scored 12 of the 13 penalties he has taken in the competition. 

After just 101 seconds, Fernandes' penalty was the earliest goal that City have ever conceded in a Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, and the first they have conceded within two minutes at home in the competition since Steed Malbranque's strike for Fulham at Maine Road in January 2003.

Liverpool 0-1 Fulham: Reds' Merseyside misery rolls on

It is hard to believe that before their defeat to Burnley on January 21, Liverpool had not lost a league match at Anfield since April 2017. 

Liverpool have now lost six home games in a row, their longest ever such streak, while they are the first side to lose six in a row on home soil in the Premier League since Huddersfield Town in February 2019 (seven).

The Reds' six league defeats at Anfield this season is their most in a single campaign since 1953-54 (also six), when the Reds finished bottom of the top-flight, with Fulham the first promoted team to win away at Liverpool in the top flight since Blackpool Town in October 2010.

Jurgen Klopp's side are winless in their last eight league home matches, only embarking on a longer winless top-flight run at Anfield once before – 10 games between October 1951 and March 1952. They have won just one of their last seven matches in the competition.

Fulham, on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League away games (W2 D6) – their longest run without defeat on the road in their top-flight history – and are now level on 26 points with 17th-placed Brighton and Hove Albion.

Excluding penalties and own goals, Liverpool have failed to score with each of their last 115 shots at Anfield in the Premier League (including 16 against Fulham). This is the longest such scoreless run of shots on home soil by any side.

Tottenham 4-1 Crystal Palace: Bale and Kane rampant as Spurs boost top-four hopes

Only leaders City (35) have earned more points at home in this season's Premier League than Tottenham (24), and Jose Mourinho's men were in fine form against Palace.

Gareth Bale scored either side of Christian Benteke's equaliser – since the 2012-13 season, only Olivier Giroud (32) has more headed goals in the competition than the Belgian – with both of the Welshman's goals teed up by the brilliant Kane.

Bale has scored in each of his last three home appearances in all competitions, the first time he has done so since September 2018 for Real Madrid (four in a row), and first time for Spurs since May 2013.

Kane then curled in a sensational third goal, before he headed home a fourth from Son Heung-min's cushioned cutback.

Son and Kane have now assisted one another for 14 Premier League goals this season, breaking Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton's all-time competition record of 13 set in 1994-95 for Blackburn.

Kane's second goal was also Spurs' 100th strike in all competitions this season, seeing them become the second club in Europe's "top five" leagues to reach that tally in 2020-21, after Bayern Munich (106).

Spurs talisman Kane is the first Tottenham player since Jurgen Klinsmann in May 1998 to score twice and provide two assists in a Premier League match, while he has been directly involved in 40 goals in 36 games in all competitions this season (24 goals and 16 assists), the most of any player for a top-flight club.

West Brom 0-0 Newcastle United: Bore draw does little for survival hopes

There was not so much in the way of entertainment in the day's early kick-off, as strugglers West Brom and Newcastle shared the spoils.

West Brom are unbeaten in three home league games against Newcastle (W1 D2) for the first time since January 2005, while only Southampton (seven) have gained fewer Premier League points in 2021 than the Baggies (10) and Newcastle (nine).

Newcastle have won just one of their last nine Premier League away games (D1 L7), failing to score in six of those matches.

West Brom had 13 shots at goal in the match, their joint-most attempts without scoring in a Premier League game this season (also 13 v Burnley in October).

Arsenal were dealt a blow by Granit Xhaka's dreadful mistake against Burnley, while Southampton ended a nine-match Premier League winless streak on Saturday.

Xhaka hit an attempted clearance straight at Chris Wood in the early kick-off at Turf Moor, ultimately costing Mikel Arteta's side a point.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's team then dispatched lowly Sheffield United 2-0 to finally rediscover some form, with Aston Villa and Wolves later playing out a goalless draw.

Leicester City beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 in the late kick-off, and we took a look at the best Opta facts from Saturday's action.
 

Burnley 1-1 Arsenal: X-rated error costs Arteta

Arsenal could have closed the gap between themselves and Tottenham to just two points ahead of next week's north London derby, yet had to settle for a point against Burnley, who have now won just one game in 10 in all competitions.

The Gunners took the lead through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the sixth minute. Arsenal's captain has scored more Premier League goals against Burnley (eight) than against any other club, while he only has a better record against Hamburg (nine) in Europe's 'top five' leagues.

However, they were hindered by Xhaka's error. The midfielder attempted to play his way out of a tight spot in Arsenal's area, only for his clearance to strike Chris Wood and bobble in.

Since the start of 2016-17, Xhaka has made eight errors leading to goals in the top flight, which is more than any other outfield Premier League player.

Arsenal have now kept only one clean sheet in their past 11 games in all competitions (0-0 v Manchester United in January), after keeping five in a row directly before that.

Burnley, on the other hand, have drawn five consecutive home league games for the third time in their history, after a run of six games ending in April 1936 and a run of five ending in October 1997.

Sheffield United 0-2 Southampton: Adams blunts his former club as Saints buck the trend

Che Adams scored a stunning goal to condemn his former team Sheffield United to another defeat, while simultaneously helping Southampton end their dismal run of form.

Southampton had lost eight of their past nine league matches heading into Saturday's meeting at Bramall Lane, having not won since beating Liverpool on January 4.

Captain James Ward-Prowse opened the scoring from the penalty spot; he has been directly involved in 26 Premier League goals under Hasenhuttl (18 goals, eight assists), twice as many as under any other Southampton manager.

It also moved Ward-Prowse onto seven goals in all competitions, his joint-best return in a single campaign. Six of these seven goals have come from dead ball situations (five direct free-kicks, one penalty).

Southampton had been hit by an early injury to Danny Ings, yet his replacement Adams stepped up, slamming in a spectacular half-volley to make it 2-0 shortly after half-time.

Adams has scored four goals in his four Premier League appearances against the Blades, accounting for 44 per cent of his total goals in the competition, while Chris Wilder's men have become only the second English top-flight team to lose 22 of their first 28 games in a season after Sunderland in 2005-06.

Aston Villa 0-0 Wolves: Grealish absence continues to hit home

There was no winner in Saturday's local derby as Wolves extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League at Villa Park to five matches (W2 D3).

Villa have failed to score in each of their past four home Premier League games against Wolves – only against Chelsea (a run of five between October 1995 and January 2000) and Manchester United (a run of five between March 2003 and December 2006) have they had a longer run of games without scoring against a specific opponent at Villa Park in the competition.

Jack Grealish was again absent through injury and, under Dean Smith, Villa have won just two of their 12 home league games without the playmaker (D5 L5).

On the plus side for Villa, they have kept 14 clean sheets in the Premier League this season, their highest tally in a single top-flight campaign since 2009-10 (15), with only Manchester City (15) having kept more this term.

Wolves, meanwhile, have won just one of their past 10 away Premier League games (D4 L5), with that victory coming at Southampton in February.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-2 Leicester City: Amartey late show gets Foxes back on track

Daniel Amartey proved the unlikely hero for Leicester as they got back on track in their bid to consolidate their place in the top four with a last-gasp 2-1 win over Brighton.

Graham Potter's side took the lead through Adam Lallana's maiden Brighton goal, and his first in 503 days and 32 appearances in the competition since netting for Liverpool against Manchester United in October 2019.

However, Brighton have now dropped 17 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season, their most in a single campaign in the competition. Only Southampton (18) have dropped more than the Seagulls in 2020-21.

Kelechi Iheanacho restored parity and has scored in each of his past two Premier League appearances, having netted in just one of his previous 17 in the competition.

Brighton thought they might come away with a point when Jamie Vardy had a penalty appeal turned down, but Amartey popped up with the winner from the following corner.

It was just his second Premier League goal, and his first since he scored against Stoke City in December 2016.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.