When Jack Grealish charged into the penalty area in the 87th minute at the Santiago Bernabeu late last season and saw his shot cleared off the line by Ferland Mendy, there seemed no way Manchester City would not be in the Champions League final.

They were 1-0 up in the semi-final second leg, 5-3 ahead on aggregate. Real Madrid had three minutes plus stoppage time to turn things around – even for a side who produced some memorable comebacks en route to the semi-finals, turning this tie around looked impossible.

Yet the tale unfolded in a matter of minutes, with City's Champions League aspirations dissolving for another season.

Over the course of the two legs, City were comfortably the better team and yet failed to advance to the final in Paris, where Madrid went on to beat Liverpool 1-0.

City's failure served to highlight a key deficiency in their squad.

Whether that's fair or not is up for debate, because they subsequently went on to win a fourth Premier League title in five years, and no one would have questioned the legitimacy of them seeing off Madrid, but when the victor is led by the type of figure the loser is lacking, it's an easy conclusion to jump to.

Karim Benzema may not have been at his unplayable best in that second leg, but he won and converted the ultimately decisive penalty, and the effectiveness with which he led the line in the first game ensured Madrid were still in with a shout upon the return to Spain.

City will now hope they have such a goalscoring talisman in Erling Haaland.

After a slightly unconvincing City debut in the Community Shield last week, failing to score against Liverpool from his game-high 1.04 expected goals (xG), Haaland will make his Premier League bow as the new season begins this weekend, with attention sure to soon turn to European action.

City apparently paid £51.3million (€60m) to Borussia Dortmund for his transfer. Even when you consider the apparently significant agents' fees, it is difficult to see this as anything other than a bargain for City.

The dust may now have settled on City's 2021-22 collapse in the Spanish capital, but it's hard not to look at the deal through the prism of Champions League failure because of what will now be expected – rather than hoped for – with a player like Haaland in the team.

When trying to understand what has specifically gone wrong for City in the Champions League since Pep Guardiola was hired, most observers seem to have different opinions. Some might point to an apparent lack of on-field leaders, others highlight wastefulness at crucial moments, and of course there are many who have bemoaned Pep's dreaded "overthinking".

The idea of there being a lack of on-field leaders has always seemed wide of the mark, while no one can accuse Guardiola of overcomplicating his selections against Madrid. Even if one were to try to claim that, City were on course for the final until the 90th minute of the second leg.

Similarly, wastefulness is something most clubs can be accused of at one time or another, and, in fact, across all the Champions League ties from which City have been eliminated under Guardiola, they have scored 17 times from 16.99 xG. Granted, there were occasions where they didn't score as often as they should have, but over time it evens itself out.

Yet perhaps this is where Haaland can make the difference. Sure, City's xG has evened out over the unsuccessful ties in question, but with a striker as freakishly deadly as the Norwegian – last Saturday at the King Power Stadium excepted – there becomes a greater opportunity to finish chances that maybe you wouldn't generally expect to.

Following his Bundesliga debut on January 18, 2020, Haaland scored 86 goals in 89 games for Dortmund in all competitions, averaging a goal every 84 minutes.

Only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (123 goals in 108 games) boasted a better scoring rate over that period among players from Europe's top five leagues.

Despite struggling with injuries in the 2021-22 season, Haaland still managed 29 goals in 30 games for BVB, including a strike in his final game. Twenty-one of those goals were scored via his favoured left foot, three came via his right and the other five were headers.

One thing you cannot accuse City of is being ineffective when it comes to controlling football matches and creating chances – they wouldn't have enjoyed the success they have in the Premier League, under intense pressure from an incredible Liverpool side, if not.

But in knockout ties when there is such a limited amount of time to respond to setbacks or make amends for certain mistakes, whether defensive or in front of goal, the value of the greatest strikers can shine through even more: Benzema showed that against City.

While there remain stylistic compatibility questions to be asked regarding City and Haaland – there were occasions last week when dangerous runs were not quite met by passes, as City adjust to playing with an out-and-out striker – they suddenly have arguably the finest finisher of his generation in their arsenal.

If Haaland isn't the final piece of the puzzle in City's quest for a maiden Champions League crown, Guardiola might as well give up.

The Premier League is approaching a landmark age: on August 15, the competition will be 30 years old, with that date ultimately ushering in a golden era for English football.

Although we may be 10 days away from that particular milestone, Friday sees the latest edition of the Premier League kick off with Crystal Palace and Arsenal contesting the opening game of the 2022-23 campaign at Selhurst Park.

As such, it only seems right to jump the gun a little and look back on the first 30 years of what many believe has become the greatest league in world football.

So, buckle up as Stats Perform takes you on a trip down memory lane…

Managing expectations

This is classic 'pub quiz' territory: which manager has presided over the most Premier League games?

You know it's either Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger, don't you? You probably end up going for the Manchester United icon because of his sheer longevity.

Alas, you'd be wrong.

Wenger took charge of 18 more Premier League games (828) than 'Fergie' before he brought his long Arsenal career to a close.

Nevertheless, Ferguson's 13 titles look unlikely to ever be matched. His closest rival in that respect is Pep Guardiola (four), with Wenger joined on three by Jose Mourinho.

Play on, player

Over the first 30 seasons of the Premier League, 4,488 players have appeared in the competition at an average of 149.6 debutants per campaign.

If we ignore the inaugural season for obvious reasons, the campaign with the most debutants was 2015-16 when 162 players made their Premier League bows.

Of the nearly 4,500 individuals to feature in the competition, Gareth Barry sits clear with the most appearances (653), the last of which came during the 2017-18 season with West Brom.

It's a record that will take some beating, but if anyone's got a chance of toppling him, it's his former Manchester City team-mate James Milner.

The 36-year-old, now of Liverpool, is fourth on the all-time list with 588 outings.

Forever young

Everyone loves a 'wonderkid'. The Premier League has seen more than its fair share over the years, and some got started very, very young.

Mark Platts was the first 16-year-old to ever play in the Premier League when he made his Sheffield Wednesday debut in February 1996.

When Matthew Briggs came along 11 years later and featured for Fulham at 16 years and 68 days old, you'd have been forgiven for thinking his record would stand the test of time.

It lasted 12 years until another Fulham player shaved 38 days off Briggs' record – that player was Harvey Elliott. Now at Liverpool, the young midfielder looks set for a glittering career.

The name of the game

Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, Wayne Rooney – when you think of Premier League goalscorers, these are probably the names that immediately spring to mind.

Well, you're wrong. You should be thinking about Andrew Johnson, Glen Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Bradley Johnson, Roger Johnson et al.

Why? Because there are more players with the surname Johnson to have scored in the Premier League than any other surname.

There have been 21 of them to be exact, two more than the Williams clan.

Synonymous.

Get to the points

It's been a frustrating few (nine?) years for Man United fans, but don't worry, folks, if you just look at the big (massive) picture, it'll definitely all feel much better.

United still sit top of the overall Premier League table with 2,366 points, giving them a healthy 225-point cushion over second-placed Arsenal.

Manchester City may have won four of the past five league titles, a feat only United had achieved before them in the Premier League, but the real story is that they're way back on 1,629 Premier League points.

Yo-yo with the flow

To be fair, almost every single one of you knows what's coming here.

You guessed it, Norwich City's relegation from the last season makes them the yo-yoingest (yes, we've just made that up) club in Premier League history.

That was their sixth relegation to go with their five promotions to the top flight since 1992, taking them one clear of West Brom, who have the same number of ascensions but only five demotions to their name.

I love goals, goals, goals, goals

Of course, Shearer remains the Premier's League all-time leading scorer with 260, 52 more than Wayne Rooney in second.

But Harry Kane looks to be in with a chance of usurping both England greats – in fact, another solid season could take him beyond 200 as he begins the 2022-23 campaign on 183.

Kane also appears among the very best goalscoring combinations in the competition's history as he and Son Heung-min have linked up for 41 goals – that's five more than Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard as the next-best.

As for high-scoring matches, there have been three Premier League games that have finished with a nine-goal margin – two were achieved by Man United (9-0 v Southampton in February 2021, and v Ipswich Town in March 1995) and Leicester City managed it in October 2019, also crushing Saints 9-0.

Do call it a comeback

Your team's trailing 2-0, you're despondent and bereft of hope. But then, out of nowhere, you've got a goal back. Then the equaliser. And then, just when you'd convinced yourself "this draw feels like a win", a third goes in, and it's pandemonium.

There are few more satisfying situations in football than when you team produces such a turnaround – the despair you were feeling earlier only makes your full-time jubilation that bit more intense.

The biggest such turnarounds that led to wins all involved teams coming back from three goals down. Leeds United, Wimbledon and Wolves have all managed it in 4-3 victories, while Man United beat Spurs 5-3 from 3-0 down.

No team have done so since Wolves in October 2003, although Newcastle United certainly deserve a special mention – they are the only team to find themselves 4-0 down and avoid defeat. Their 4-4 draw with Arsenal in February 2011 remains a Premier League classic.

Stop the clock!

Here's another for the pub quiz enthusiasts: who scored the quickest goal in Premier League history?

Netting just 7.69 seconds into an April 2019 game between Southampton and Watford, Shane Long opened the scoring to break a 19-year record that had been set by Spurs defender Ledley King.

To put that into context, it'd take you longer to read that sentence. It was also quicker than Usain Bolt's world-record time in the 100 metres (9.58 seconds).

The latest goal ever is maybe a less notable record, but it nonetheless belongs to Bruno Fernandes, who in September 2020 scored a penalty after 99 minutes and 45 seconds to seal United a dramatic 3-2 win over Brighton and Hove Albion – yes, that's the game when the Seagulls hit the woodwork a record five times.

As for the quickest hat-trick, that was scored by Sadio Mane for Southampton against Aston Villa in May 2015, with his first and third goals separated by just two minutes and 56 seconds.

It may feel like it has only been away for a few weeks, but the Premier League is back on Friday, meaning time is running out for you to get your fantasy team into shape.

With all the transfers and new teams to keep track of, getting a fantasy team that you're happy with on the opening day can be a tricky task.

Has the new striker settled? Can the promoted defence remain solid in a higher division? That guy scored goals in another country, but can he translate that form to the Premier League?

There is lots to take into account, but Stats Perform have crunched the Opta numbers in the aim of giving you a hand, so here are four picks that might be worth considering…

JOSE SA (Leeds United v Wolves)

The likes of Alisson and Ederson might be more likely to get clean sheet points for you, but many fantasy football players see goalkeeper as an area to save a bit of cash.

Sa could be a solid option to consider if that sounds like you. The Portuguese keeper prevented more goals than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League last season (8.5), according to expected goals data – the next best was David de Gea with 2.8.

Similarly, only Alisson (76) had a better save percentage (75) than Sa (minimum 1,000 minutes played), highlighting just how dependable he was when called upon.

REECE JAMES (Everton v Chelsea)

Even though he missed a chunk of the season through injury, James was a standout performer when he was fit.

His 14 goal involvements (five goals, nine assists) was a joint-Premier League high among defenders alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, though the latter played almost 1,000 minutes more.

That haul gave him an average of one goal involvement every 133 minutes. Of all the defenders to play at least 90 minutes, that was the best record. He might be pricey, but James could be a real asset.

DEJAN KULUSEVSKI (Tottenham v Southampton)

It is not easy to come into a team mid-season and impress almost instantly, but that's essentially what Kulusevski did last term, proving a hugely reliable player as Tottenham went on to clinch Champions League qualification.

The service he provided to his fellow attackers was invaluable as he recorded eight assists – between his debut on February 9 and the end of the season, no Premier League player set up more goals.

He also chipped in with five goals of his own, giving him a goal involvement total (13) that was only bettered by Karry Kane, Son Heung-min (both 19) and Kevin De Bruyne (15) over the same period.

If he can reach that level again, Kulusevski will be a fantasy favourite.

GABRIEL JESUS (Crystal Palace v Arsenal)

Most people will be making Erling Haaland their main choice in attack – you can't blame anyone for that, but he does have a certain cost.

Jesus may have only left Manchester City because of Haaland, but the early indications are the Brazil international and Arsenal could be a great marriage. He'll be cheaper than the man who has replaced him at the Etihad Stadium, too.

But also, we shouldn't overlook how good a player Jesus – who scored seven in five pre-season games – actually is. After all, only once before has he managed more goal involvements (16) than he did last season, and he was mostly playing from the right wing.

Additionally, his minutes per goal involvement ratio in the Premier League (minimum 1,000 minutes played) since his debut is the fifth best (107) – now he'll be a regular starter, and many expect him to blossom.

Death, taxes and Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga title.

It is slightly paraphrasing the old idiom to say these are the only three things certain in life.

Such is the optimism of football fandom, though, the question always arises ahead of the new campaign whether this year will be the one where someone steps up and takes Bayern's throne.

The 2021-22 season saw the Bavarian giants claim their 10th Bundesliga title in a row, with Julian Nagelsmann leading Bayern to the championship by eight points in his first season at the Allianz Arena.

Since Jurgen Klopp's exciting Borussia Dortmund side of 2011-12, no team has been able to halt the relentless Bayern dominance of German football.

In fact, in the last decade, only the 2018-19 campaign saw anyone finish closer than the eight points Dortmund were behind last season, when BVB were just two points shy of their Der Klassiker rivals.

How can anyone seriously make the argument that their run will halt any time soon then? Well, let Stats Perform have a go as we take a look at some of the reasons why Bayern might struggle to maintain their stranglehold in 2022-23.

 

Loss of Lewy means new Bayern approach

Bayern's signing of Robert Lewandowski from Dortmund in 2014 was one of the catalysts for their concerted period of dominance.

However, after eight years of service and 238 goals in 253 Bundesliga games for Bayern, the Poland striker wanted to move on and eventually sealed a transfer to Barcelona.

His goals-per-game ratio in the German top flight of 0.94 bested even the great Gerd Muller (0.85), and his loss was certainly not one Bayern had planned for, with the club initially indicating they expected him to honour the final year of his contract, before finally relenting.

Despite being 33 years old, Lewandowski's impact had not waned at all, with him scoring 50 goals in all club competitions last season, making it seven consecutive seasons with at least 40 goals to his name.

Nagelsmann has insisted his team will evolve in Lewandowski's absence, though, and the signing of Sadio Mane appears to suggest that.

After Lewandowski's sale was confirmed, Nagelsmann told BR24: "I'm not worried right now, we are very well-equipped offensively and I'm still spoiled for choice. We have a possibility of building FC Bayern without a striker that can reliably score 40 goals."

With 120 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, Mane averaged a goal every 178.3 minutes for the Reds – a return of one in slightly under two matches. He also assisted 37 goals, meaning he was directly involved in a goal every 137 minutes.

In the Premier League, only Harry Kane (134), former team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (104) scored more goals than Mane (90) over the course of his Liverpool career.

His scoring rate has never been close to that of Lewandowski, though he has played a significant amount of his career on the left of a front three rather than through the middle, where he ended last season for Liverpool and is expected to mostly play at Bayern.

That means the likes of Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, Jamal Musiala and Thomas Muller will need to step up and contribute more goals, while it will be interesting to see if 17-year-old striker Mathys Tel will feature much in his first season after signing from Rennes.

The club has also added Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui from Ajax, while former Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt has arrived from Juventus to replace the outgoing Niklas Sule, who chose to swap Munich for Dortmund when his contract expired.

Will Dortmund finally solve flakiness issue?

Marco Rose looked to be a very astute appointment in 2021, but the former Borussia Monchengladbach boss just did not work out at Dortmund.

Rose has been replaced by Edin Terzic, who enjoyed a spell as caretaker boss in the second half of the 2020-21 campaign, winning the DFB-Pokal.

Terzic now has the reins permanently and has two big jobs on his hands.

The first is fixing a leaky defence, which conceded 52 goals in the Bundesliga last season, more than any other team to finish in the top eight, and only one goal fewer than relegated Arminia Bielefeld.

The club may have addressed the issue in the transfer market as they have essentially procured the German national team's central defence by adding Sule from Bayern on a free transfer and the highly rated Nico Schlotterbeck from Freiburg.

Schlotterbeck won 69 per cent of his duels in the Bundesliga last season, the joint-most of all players who contested at least 100 duels, while Sule was third with 68 per cent.

Another issue that needed addressing was similar to Bayern's Lewandowski issue, with Erling Haaland having departed for Manchester City.

The Norwegian scored 86 goals in 89 appearances at Dortmund, including 22 of their 85 league goals last season, though he was only able to feature in 24 games due to injury.

Sebastien Haller was signed to replace Haaland but will unfortunately miss the first few months of the campaign after undergoing surgery for a testicular tumour.

The addition of exciting young talent Karim Adeyemi from Salzburg will give them a dynamic in attack they have missed since selling Jadon Sancho to Manchester United, while in Haller's absence it will be interesting to see if Youssoufa Moukoko, still just 17-years-old, can add to the five Bundesliga goals he already has to his name.

Having also signed defensive midfielder Salih Ozcan from Cologne to provide some steel alongside Jude Bellingham, who it appears they will be keeping hold of for another season at least, the balance of a frequently wobbly side could be there for Terzic to build some momentum.

Best of the rest

Bayer Leverkusen enjoyed a strong campaign last season and have replaced Lucas Alario with promising Czech striker Adam Hlozek.

They also appear to have fought off interest in Moussa Diaby so it would not be a surprise to see them go well again, but with Champions League football to contend with, questions remain whether they have the depth of squad to excel on all fronts.

RB Leipzig will hope to provide a challenge and have also kept hold of their star player in Christopher Nkunku, though losing Tyler Adams and Nordi Mukiele will be a blow, while Eintracht Frankfurt will want to build on last season's Europa League success.

It would be churlish to write Bayern off, of course. They go into the season as heavy favourites and rightly so.

 

Mane might not have the same goalscoring output as Lewandowski, but football has proven time and again that having one player who scores lots of goals is not the only way to be successful.

The African Football Player of the Year has the chance to be the face of the new Bayern, where everyone will be expected to chip in and Nagelsmann can truly cement his ideas on the team.

However, while Bayern have been somewhat forced into a new era, Dortmund appear to have reached theirs more by design and if everything clicks early on for Terzic, an exciting title race could develop.

After all, the only thing that is certain about football is that nothing is certain.

The Premier League is back, with another fascinating season in store.

The 2021-22 title race went right to the wire, with Manchester City pipping Liverpool at the last, while the picture at the bottom was similarly dramatic as Leeds United survived.

The dominant top two have strengthened – including City pinching Leeds talisman Kalvin Phillips – and the league again looks so tough to call at both ends of the table.

Thankfully, Stats Perform AI is able to do that. It has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and it has thrown up some interesting results, with some surprises at the summit.

LIVERPOOL SET TO LEAPFROG CITY

There was only a point between champions City and runners-up Liverpool last season, and Stats Perform AI expects the coming campaign to be similarly close.

But the Reds are the favourites for the title, with a 49.72 per cent chance of being crowned champions to City's 47.03 per cent.

Such is the gulf between the top two and the rest that Tottenham, backed as their nearest challengers, have only a 1.81 per shot at ending their 62-year wait under former Premier League winner Antonio Conte.

Chelsea, the club with whom Conte claimed the title, are given a 1.1 per cent hope.

Only seven teams are given any chance at all of celebrating come May – the fewest across all of Europe's top five leagues – with Manchester United (0.18 per cent) and Arsenal (0.13 per cent) joined by a resurgent Newcastle United (0.03 per cent).

Last champions in 1927, Newcastle are closing on a century-long drought, so even with their big spending, a one in 3,000 shot sounds about right.

UNITED AND ARSENAL FALL SHORT

Stats Perform AI does not only fancy Spurs and Chelsea as the top two's nearest contenders but also as their fellow Champions League qualifiers.

City (99.33 per cent) and Liverpool (99.28 per cent) are shoo-ins for top-four finishes, and Tottenham (70.07 per cent) and Chelsea (62.46 per cent) are also in strong positions to repeat last season's leading quartet.

That would mean Manchester United (25.56 per cent) and Arsenal (22.0 per cent) missing out once more, with Newcastle (5.03 per cent) again next.

However, despite West Ham being given no hope of a title tilt and longer odds of Champions League qualification, they are ranked to repeat their seventh-placed finish ahead of Newcastle.

Every team in the division at least has the opportunity to dream of a top-four finish, even if Bournemouth (0.07 per cent) might instead be better off preparing for the reality of a relegation scrap.

TALL ORDER FOR PROMOTED TRIO

Bournemouth are not the only promoted team set to find life tough. In fact, Stats Perform AI predicts all three will go straight back down.

This has only happened once previously in Premier League history – in 1997-98 – but the prediction model considers the trio clear favourites to be relegated.

Bournemouth (45.03 per cent) have scarcely improved their squad, while Nottingham Forest have done the opposite and invested heavily (44.47 per cent); neither approach is expected to succeed, nor are Fulham (43.83 per cent), promoted as champions.

It may not be as clear-cut as this suggests, however, with Southampton (34.23 per cent), Brentford (31.85) and Leeds (31.24) also forecast to endure testing seasons.

Everton (15.06 per cent), like Brentford and Leeds, have lost key players, but the data is backing the Toffees to improve on last year's dismal campaign.

Another Bundesliga campaign kicks off on Friday after a frantic close-season saw Germany's top flight robbed of its two biggest stars.

Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski left for Barcelona, while fellow striking sensation Erling Haaland departed Borussia Dortmund as expected for Manchester City.

What do these moves do to shake up the Bundesliga, then? Perhaps not an awful lot...

Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, even if the title race is a little too predictable.

MANE TO MAINTAIN BAYERN DOMINANCE

Lewandowski's exit was offset by the arrival of Sadio Mane at Bayern, and Stats Perform AI expects Julian Nagelsmann's side to again charge clear at the top of the table.

Bayern have won 10 consecutive titles, so perhaps it is no surprise they are given an 84.93 per cent chance of taking the trophy home again in May.

That figure makes Bayern the most likely champions across all of Europe's top five leagues, with nearest contenders Dortmund only in with a 6.01 per cent shot.

RB Leipzig (4.64 per cent), Bayer Leverkusen (3.38 per cent) lead a group of 10 other clubs who are given at least a slim hope of winning the championship.

For six teams – including 2003-04 champions Werder Bremen and 2006-07 victors Stuttgart – their title tilt is over before a ball has even been kicked.

 

SCRAMBLE OUTSIDE THE TOP FOUR

Unfortunately, the top-four tussle appears as predictable as Bayern's coronation.

The champions will of course occupy one Champions League spot – their 99.53 per cent chance again the greatest across the top five leagues – while Dortmund (76.78 per cent), Leipzig (72.2 per cent) and Leverkusen (62.98 per cent) also look secure, forecast second, third and fourth respectively.

That means a return to Europe's elite competition for all of those who have qualified this year, even if Leipzig have leapfrogged Leverkusen.

Stats Perform AI suggests Union Berlin (4.66 per cent) and Freiburg (8.22 per cent) – one and three points outside the top four last term – have missed their shot, with Borussia Monchengladbach (22.94 per cent) and Eintracht Frankfurt (21.5 per cent) the most likely gatecrashers despite last season finishing 10th and 11th.

Eintracht are also in the Champions League this term after winning the Europa League, but they are considered the team most likely to return to the second-tier competition (13.32 per cent).

There could be a real scrap for those final European places, though. All but four teams have at least a 1.0 per cent likelihood of qualifying for the Europa Conference League, with title favourites Bayern one of those four.

 

SCHALKE AND WERDER FACE A FIGHT

Schalke and Werder – two of the great names of German football – have returned to the top flight following successful promotion campaigns in the 2. Bundesliga last season, but they face tricky first seasons back in the big time.

The ceiling for Schalke is a little higher, so Stats Perform AI has them finishing in the relegation play-off place in 16th.

This is despite two teams – Augsburg (14.02 per cent) and Werder (13.9 per cent) – being more likely to qualify for that play-off than Schalke (13.3 per cent).

Werder are ranked 17th, while the outlook for Augsburg is awful; 14th in the Bundesliga in 2021-22, they have a new coach in ex-Dortmund II boss Enrico Maassen and are considered a strong 38.19 per cent shot for relegation.

Bochum (30.84 per cent) are also in a little trouble, with Hertha Berlin (11.62 per cent) backed to pull away and finish 12th after their play-off scare last time out.

It felt like a landmark moment in European football.

In August 2017, Paris Saint-Germain forced Barcelona to hand over one of their prized assets when they triggered the €222million release clause of Neymar, apparently signalling a power shift from the more traditional European powerhouses to the French giants.

It has not quite been that simple in the five years that have followed, though.

Barca have not won a Champions League since Neymar left, but neither have PSG, and the Catalan club can probably point to wider issues as to why their trophy haul has dried up in recent times, like how poorly they spent all the money they received for him.

The Brazil international remains the most expensive footballer in history, even if his transfer did signal a general explosion in fees across the top level of the game, but has he been worth it for PSG?

Half a decade since he swapped Spain for France, Stats Perform has taken a look at Neymar's five years in Paris.

Bye-bye Barca

Neymar's name first came to prominence when he was called up to the Brazil squad for the 2010 World Cup at the age of just 18. Immediate comparisons were made to Ronaldo, who was taken to the 1994 World Cup by the Selecao at a young age, before latterly becoming one of the greatest strikers the game had ever seen.

The new kid on the block was clearly a different kind of player to the legendary forward, but Neymar's flicks and tricks at Santos excited onlookers enough that the whole of Europe was trying to sign him, with Barca winning the race in 2013.

Neymar went on to become part of a fabled front three at Camp Nou alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, winning two LaLiga titles, three Copa del Rey trophies and the Champions League in 2014-15.

During his four years at Barca, he was directly involved in 164 goals in 186 appearances (105 goals, 59 assists), and in his final season in Spain, Neymar was the only player in Europe's top five leagues to record 20 or more for both goals (20) and assists (21) in all competitions.

It was therefore quite a blow when PSG came along and took him in 2017.

 

Life in Paris

Despite having been in Paris for a year longer than he was in Barcelona, Neymar has so far played 42 fewer games for PSG than he did at Barca, with 156 goal involvements (102 goals, 54 assists) to his name in 144 appearances in all competitions. 

The Brazil international has been largely ruthless, converting 52.9 per cent of his big chances, bettering Mbappe (46.4 per cent) and Messi (26.1 per cent).

He made an impressive start, scoring 28 in 30 games in his first season, followed by 23 in 28 the next.

His lack of availability has often been an issue, though, seemingly unable to stay fit for long enough to truly dominate across a season.

That being said, Neymar currently sits fifth in the club's all-time leading scorers alongside, but well behind team-mate Kylian Mbappe (171), who has become the face of the current PSG side, particularly now he has committed his future to the club after penning a new deal in May.

On the surface, you would say those numbers suggest Neymar has been a relative success at the Parc des Princes, particularly as he has also won four Ligue 1 titles, three Coupe de France trophies and twice lifted the now defunct Coupe de la Ligue.

However, you cannot really mention Neymar or PSG without then discussing Champions League ambitions.

Having ironically been at the centre of PSG's embarrassing elimination at the hands of Barca just months before leaving the latter for the former in 2017, it was hoped that adding Neymar would tip the scales in the Ligue 1 side's favour as they looked to lift Europe's most prestigious prize for the first time.

As it is, they have reached just one final, losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich in 2020, and they once again suffered a humiliating collapse against Spanish opposition last season as they crashed out against eventual champions Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, despite holding a 2-0 aggregate lead heading into the second half of the second leg.

Following that loss, PSG fans turned their ire on Neymar, believing the superstar to have not done enough to prevent their elimination, but he was not the only one receiving boos from his own supporters, with a well-regarded Argentine also being partly sneered at.

 

Friends reunited

Since Neymar left Barcelona, barely a transfer window has passed without him being linked with a move back to Camp Nou, with suggestions that Messi wanted to play with his former partner in crime again.

What many hadn't seen coming was that they would indeed be reunited, just not in LaLiga.

Barca's inability to give Messi a new contract after the league imposed financial restrictions on them in 2021 meant he had to leave, with PSG waiting with open arms to bring the Argentina legend to link up with Neymar once again.

It has not quite been the same, though, and while you can excuse Messi not setting the world alight in his first season having only played for Barcelona at senior level in his illustrious career, Neymar also failed to light up many games in which he featured.

He again missed several games through injury, making just 28 appearances in all competitions in 2021-22, scoring 13 goals, three of which were penalties.

 

Notably, he also failed to register a single goal in the Champions League, the competition he was essentially signed for such vast money to lead the club to winning.

There have been murmurs about PSG moving on from the Neymar experiment, with fans turning on him and club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi recently saying he wants to move on from the "bling bling" era and bring in more local players like Mbappe over the next few years.

Whether anyone is willing to take a gamble on a player who will still cost a lot of money remains to be seen, with Manchester City seemingly distancing themselves from a move in this transfer window.

It might not be too late for Neymar, though. The talent is undoubtedly there, and he has shown he is capable of putting up tremendous numbers, it's just a case of remaining available and turning up in the big games.

The arrival of Christophe Galtier as head coach appears to be a step in the direction Al-Khelaifi was alluding to, and the former Lille and Nice boss has said he would love for Neymar to stay and be a part of things next season.

As far as starts go, Neymar made a strong one to the new campaign, netting twice in Sunday's 4-0 rout of Nantes in the Trophee des Champions, a game that Mbappe missed.

With PSG looking set to play with a back three, there might be even more room for their attack to flourish, and Neymar could prove his doubters wrong.

The Arizona Cardinals are one of the most curious teams in the NFL. Defined in recent seasons by first-half surges followed by stretch-run slumps, a series of bemusing offseason roster moves have left many wondering as to the nature of the Cardinals'' plan of attack in an extremely difficult NFC West. What was always likely, however, was that plan including Kyler Murray.

Despite negotiations over an extension at times appearing tumultuous, a scenario in which Murray was not a part of the Cardinals' future always seemed far-fetched.

So it proved last week when the Cardinals signed Murray to a five-year, $230.5 million extension, which sees him become the second-highest paid quarterback in the league with an average annual salary of $46.1 million.

Murray trails only Aaron Rodgers ($50.2 million) in that regard and becomes the latest quarterback to surpass $40 million a year in salary.

The Cardinals are in part paying for what they believe Murray can do in the future, now having seen him produce three seasons of play suggesting he has a chance to become one of the finest dual-threat quarterback in league history and lead Arizona to a long-awaited Super Bowl title.

But do his performances to this point, which have yet to deliver a playoff win, make him worthy of receiving more per year than all but the back-to-back defending MVP?

It is a question that grew more pointed with the news of an eyebrow-raising clause in Murray's contract requiring him to complete at least four hours of "independent study" of material provided to him to prepare for a game. After the PR nightmare it caused, that clause was subsequently removed.

Still, that stipulation suggests Murray is not preparing at the level expected of a player receiving his salary. It's difficult for anyone outside the Cardinals' organisation to know if that is the case, but Stats Perform has analysed the data from his three seasons in the NFL to see how his on-field performance compares to that of his contemporaries in the $40m club.

Playing catch-up in basic metrics

Seven other quarterbacks have recently signed contracts paying an average of at least $40m: Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford.

Oversimplifying things, the first difference that stands out between Murray and this group is that all but one of the remaining quarterbacks on the list have won a playoff game – Derek Carr being the exception.

But a host of factors – including situation, injuries, and luck – go into determining such achievements. Wins are not a quarterback stat, but Murray is also in the bottom half of this group in most of the classic stats for players at the most important position.

Since entering the NFL as the first overall pick in 2019, Murray has racked up 11,480 passing yards. That tally puts him fifth among the $40m club, with Mahomes, Carr, Rodgers and Allen the four quarterbacks to have amassed more in that period.

His completion percentage of 66.9 in that time also puts him fifth for that group of players, and he occupies the same spot in explosive passing plays of 25 yards or more (89).

Murray's 70 passing touchdowns are fewer than all the $40m quarterbacks other than Watson, who missed the entirety of last season. Allen (7.17) is the only one to have averaged fewer yards per attempt than Murray;s 7.26 and Stafford (2.3) is the sole quarterback of the group with an interception rate inferior to the Cardinals signal-caller's 2.2 per cent.

However, the days when such stats were the primary barometer by which quarterback performance was measured are gone, and Murray fares significantly better in metrics that gauge accuracy and efficiency.

Delivering deep, and when it matters

Murray made strides in delivering the ball accurately in 2021, as his performance in well-thrown rate illustrates. In 2020, Murray delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 76 per cent of his passes, below the average of 78 for quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. Last season, his well-thrown rate improved to 78.5 per cent, though that still trailed Carr, Mahomes and Prescott.

Yet offense in the modern NFL is largely about generating explosive plays, and Murray thrives in an area that plays a critical role in a team's success in doing so – deep accuracy.

The ability to throw downfield with pinpoint accuracy has long since been one of Murray's calling cards, and last season his 62.5 well-thrown percentage on throws of 20 air yards or more was tied for seventh among quarterbacks with 20 such throws. He was tied with both Mahomes and Prescott and above every other quarterback in the $40m club.

Explosive plays create efficiency, and the statistical impact of Murray's deep-ball precision emphasises that point.

Of the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks, only Carr and Stafford averaged more 20-yard passes per game than Murray (3.5) in 2021, while no quarterback in the NFL was more efficient in expected passing situations.

Murray ranked first in quarterback efficiency vs. expected. In expected passing situations, he averaged over a yard above expectation. No other quarterback in the league achieved that feat, with Rodgers (0.974) his nearest challenger:

That unmatched efficiency in the most important situations in an NFL game is worth the outlay the Cardinals have committed to Murray, and that's before his running ability is even considered.

A skill set still to be properly harnessed

Murray's dual-threat upside was a critical factor in his selection with the top overall pick three years ago. His is a skill set that meshes perfectly with the direction of modern NFL offenses, and his speed and elusiveness as a ball carrier in the open field has unsurprisingly translated to the highest level.

Since 2019, Lamar Jackson (6.36) is the sole player in the NFL to average more yards per carry than Murray's 5.69. No other quarterback earning $40m-plus per year averaged 5.5 yards per rush in that time, with Mahomes (5.30) and Allen (5.09) coming closest.

Allen (23) has scored more rushing touchdowns than Murray (20) over the last three seasons, and only Jackson has produced more explosive rushes of 20 yards or more across the same timeframe – the Baltimore Ravens superstar racking up 26 such runs compared to 15 for Murray.

That discrepancy is in part down to injury problems that forced Murray to miss three games last season and clearly affected him down the stretch of the 2020 campaign.

Durability is undoubtedly a concern that arguably makes handing such a contract to Murray a risk, while there is also a case to be made he is overly reliant on All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. With Hopkins in the lineup last season, the Cardinals racked up 7.81 yards per pass play. In the seven games he missed, they averaged 5.86.

Yet those struggles were as much about head coach Kliff Kingsbury's use of personnel as they were about Murray. Kingsbury insisted on using Hopkins almost exclusively as an outside receiver – where he played 475 of his 537 snaps in 2021 – and the Cardinals had nobody to fill the void on downfield routes from that spot when he was injured. Arizona averaged 6.84 air yards per completion with Hopkins and just 4.35 when he was sidelined.

While the bizarre clause that was in Murray's contract indicates he needs to do more during the week to realise his potential, Kingsbury must also make significant improvements.

Arizona's offense has been too focused around Hopkins and Murray's success in improvisation – as their league-leading 1.72 yards over expected on runs in expected passing situations points to – and the onus is on Kingsbury to develop a more diverse gameplan to make the most of the incredible quarterback talent he has at his disposal.

Murray's resume may not yet compare to several of the highly paid contemporaries whose salaries he has now surpassed. However, he is a quarterback who has improved year on year in more rudimentary metrics such as completion percentage, touchdown percentage and passing yards per game, with his increased accuracy and deep-ball prowess that only Mahomes and Prescott can match helping Murray become the league's most efficient quarterback in high-pressure obvious passing situations.

The baseball prospect turned football star confounds defenses by excelling when they know what to expect and delivering the unexpected with remarkable consistency.

Few players can replicate his ability to do both with such regularity. If properly harnessed by the Cardinals, Murray has the chance to reach a ceiling at the very top of the NFL and individually compare much more favourably with a group of quarterbacks who in some cases have already enjoyed the success to which he aspires.

It is a major tournament held in England where the hosts are looking to end a long wait without silverware, but Germany stand in their way.

This feels awfully familiar.

Sarina Wiegman's Lionesses have captured the hearts of a nation, with fans flocking to watch them reach their first major tournament final since 2009 where they lost to *checks notes* Germany.

Meanwhile, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg's side have advanced to the final comparatively under the radar, with Die Nationalelf picking up impressive scalps of their own along the way.

It promises to be a fascinating contest at Wembley Stadium in front of what is expected to be a record crowd for any European Championship game - men's or women's - on Sunday.

A huge 90 minutes, maybe more, awaits the two teams, but where will it be won and lost? Stats Perform takes a look at the finer details ahead of the Euro 2022 final.

Raise a glass to Mead and Popp and drink it in

While teams win tournaments, we always look to those individuals who we will remember in years to come for their performances.

Undoubtedly two of the standout players in England during the last three weeks have been Beth Mead and Alexandra Popp, current joint-top scorers with six goals each.

The Lionesses have not found it difficult to score goals, finding the net 20 times in five games in the tournament so far. In fact, only Germany in 2009 have ever scored more at a Women's Euros (21).

Mead's goal in the opening 1-0 win against Austria at Old Trafford was vital for getting their campaign rolling, before she grabbed a hat-trick in the 8-0 thrashing of Norway, another in the 5-0 win against Northern Ireland, and the opener in the 4-0 semi-final humbling of Sweden.

While Germany have not been quite as proficient – still scoring a respectable 13 goals – Popp's contributions had initially come when adding to leads, with the captain's goals against Denmark, Spain, Finland and Austria all arriving when her team were already ahead.

However, she came into her own in the last-four clash with France, scoring both goals in the 2-1 win, including a dominant header to win it with 14 minutes remaining.

Having scored in all five of Germany's games so far, a goal at Wembley would see Popp become just the second player to score in every match from the group stages to the final at a single edition of a European Championship (men's and women's), after Michel Platini for France in 1984.

Whichever one raises their game for the final could ultimately provide the deciding factor. In the case of Popp, it could well be that she has to score herself to make a difference, as she has not yet recorded an assist in the tournament, whereas Mead has four assists to her name, more than anyone else.

The strongest spine could be the key

They say a good attack wins games while a good defence wins trophies. So far, both of these teams have been effective at each end of the pitch.

England's only goal conceded in five games came when they went 1-0 down to Spain in the quarter-finals, before coming back to win 2-1 in extra time, while Germany's one against was an own goal in their semi-final against France.

An opposition player is yet to find a way past Germany, and it is not hard to see why. Kathrin-Julia Hendrich and Marina Hegering have been a steely combination at the back for Voss-Tecklenburg's team, with Hegering making 41 ball recoveries in her five games, the joint seventh most among outfield players in the tournament.

Germany youngster Lena Oberdorf has had an outstanding tournament in midfield and has 44 ball recoveries to her name.

That is the same number as England captain Leah Williamson, a player who leads by example at centre-back alongside Millie Bright, who has managed a team-high 21 clearances.

Both centre-back pairings have had plenty of help in front of them, with 20-year-old Oberdorf attempting more tackles (19) than any other player from the two finalists, while England's Keira Walsh has recovered the ball 36 times and has the best passing accuracy of any player to have attempted at least 250 passes (89.56 per cent).

Midfield could be a key area for England, who as a team have attempted 2,597 passes overall with an accuracy of 83.4 per cent, both ranked second across the tournament, while Germany have attempted 2,222 passes (ranked fourth) with an accuracy of 77 per cent (ranked seventh).

England's Germany hoodoo

It is not exclusive to the women's game, but England have an unflattering record against Germany, especially in major tournaments.

The Lionesses have won just two of their 27 meetings with Germany in all competitions, and have lost more often against them than any other opponent (D4 L21), though they did win their last meeting 3-1 in February.

Germany have won all four of their matches against England at Women's Euros by an aggregate score of 15-4. This will be the first meeting between the sides at the tournament since the 2009 final, which Germany won 6-2.

That was the last time England reached a Women's Euros final, having also lost to Sweden in 1984, while this will be Germany's ninth appearance in a final, meaning they have appeared in 69 per cent of Women's Euros title matches. They have triumphed on all eight of their previous appearances in finals so far.

You could therefore be forgiven for thinking that too much history is on the Germans' side for England to stand a chance, but the tournament hosts have a not-so-secret weapon.

Wiegman will be the first manager to have led two different nations in Women's Euros finals, having won the 2017 tournament with the Netherlands, and her overall record in the competition shows 11 wins from 11 games, with her teams having scored 33 goals and conceded just four.

Whatever happens on Sunday, it is sure to be quite a spectacle. Will football finally come "home", or will Germany repeat history and add to their own outstanding legacy?

This weekend's Community Shield sees the new English domestic season begin as the last one ended, with Manchester City and Liverpool doing battle.

City pipped Liverpool to the Premier League title, but the Reds got the better of Pep Guardiola's men in their FA Cup semi-final, going on to beat Chelsea in the decider and book their place in Saturday's curtain-raiser.

These two are expected to lead the way once again in 2022-23, yet plenty has changed in their ranks since they were last in action – particularly in attack.

At the Etihad Stadium, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling have departed to be replaced by Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.

With Haaland's arrival perhaps the most notable in the Premier League during this close-season, Liverpool responded with their own big-money big man up front; Darwin Nunez was signed from Benfica to be flanked by the returning Mohamed Salah, but Sadio Mane is gone.

After several years of success at the forefront of English football, Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp appear set to reshape their teams around their latest buys.

Both managers lined up last season primarily without a traditional number nine.

Jesus may return to that role after joining Arsenal, but City's sole centre-forward often played from the right in 2021-22, taking only 16.0 per cent of his Premier League touches in the penalty area.

Haaland, by contrast, took 20.7 per cent of his Bundesliga touches in the box for Borussia Dortmund last term, which explains how a staggering 96.3 per cent of his shots were taken from inside the area – by far a higher share than that of any forward who played for City or Liverpool.

That mark comfortably tops Nunez's (74.1 per cent of shots in the box), too, but the 23-year-old also brings something new to a Reds outfit who have often deployed a false nine through the middle.

Roberto Firmino was that man for a long time and took only 9.5 per cent of his touches in the area last season. Nunez took a mammoth 24.5 per cent of his Primeira Liga touches within 18 yards of goal.

Staying in such positions so regularly helped to boost the shot conversion rates of Haaland (27.5 per cent) and Nunez (30.6 per cent), although both still impressively outperformed their expected goals (xG) totals; Haaland scored 22 from an xG of 18.5, while Nunez netted 26 from an xG of 18.4.

In fact, the numbers suggest Divock Origi was the only player across the best two squads in the Premier League who performed in a manner akin to that which might now be expected of the superstar duo.

Origi, who has left Liverpool for Milan, took 21.7 per cent of his touches in the box, and his shoot-on-sight policy saw an attempt at goal for every 6.9 touches (9.3 for Haaland, 9.8 for Nunez).

Yet this perhaps spoke as much to Origi's role as Liverpool's specialist rescue act as anything else; he made only seven appearances, all from the bench for a combined 126 minutes, yet scored three goals, converting 30.0 per cent of his shots.

Over the course of his time under Klopp, when he was occasionally asked to play wide, Origi's statistics were more in line with those of his former team-mates. Only 13.3 per cent of his touches came in the box, just 68.9 per cent of his shots were from within the same range, and those attempts arrived every 16.4 touches on average.

Maybe Klopp will also ask Nunez to push wide and stretch the play, maintaining the fluid forward line that saw winger Mane increasingly used through the centre in big games.

That should not necessarily hamper Nunez's hopes of scoring regularly; Salah could afford to marginally underperform his xG (23.8) and still strike 23 times in the league last season, playing from the right but taking 19.6 per cent of his touches in the box and needing only 12.4 on average to attempt a shot.

Prior to last season, Guardiola had at least been able to incorporate at City the sort of penalty-box striker he has signed in Haaland.

Sergio Aguero averaged a shot every 10.0 touches under Pep, with 17.8 per cent of his touches across five seasons coming inside the area.

And Haaland brings more to his game, too, if only due to his sheer size. The 1.94-metre ex-Dortmund man won 57.6 per cent of his aerial duels in 2021-22 – no City or Liverpool forward won more than half, with Nunez also lagging on 40.6 per cent.

But perhaps the former Guardiola player whose profile most resembles Haaland's is Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and his Barcelona career was not Pep's biggest success story.

Just as City will have to adapt to Haaland – perhaps by allowing him to compete aerially from a few of their trademark cutback crosses – so will he to them. The forward completed just 71.3 per cent of his passes in the league last season; that lax level of link-up is unlikely to wash in a Guardiola side, as Jesus (84.8 per cent), Sterling (85.4 per cent) and Riyad Mahrez (90.0 per cent) will attest.

Nunez completed 67.1 per cent of his league passes, which would similarly rank him last among Liverpool forwards, but he should at least be familiar with the high-pressing approach enforced by Klopp.

Liverpool led the Premier League in high turnovers (443 or 11.7 per game), average starting position (45.5m upfield) and opposition passes per defensive action (9.9 PPDA), while Benfica (9.0 high turnovers per game, 44.4m starting position and 8.7 PPDA) unsurprisingly ranked in the Primeira Liga's top three in each category.

So, there is plenty to be excited about both in Manchester and in Liverpool and yet great scope for potential teething problems.

The forthcoming title tussle could well be decided by how successfully Haaland and Nunez fit into these ruthless, relentless winning machines, and Saturday provides an early opportunity to assess that process.

Here we go again. Some 69 days on from taking their latest Premier League title battle down to the final minutes of the final day of the last campaign, Manchester City and Liverpool prepare to face off in the 2022-23 curtain-raiser.

Liverpool not only missed out to City on the title but also tasted defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League final the following week, although the 2021-22 season was not all bad as they lifted both the EFL Cup and FA Cup.

It has been a busy window for both clubs in terms of incoming and outgoing activity, but England's two dominant forces appear certain to battle it out for a share of the major honours once again this time around.

The first of the trophies up for grabs is the Community Shield this weekend, contested between the winners of the previous season's Premier League and FA Cup. 

While some question just how competitive the fixture exactly is – especially this campaign, with the match being held away from Wembley – it provides both sides with an opportunity to lay down an early marker for what is to come over the next 10 months. 


Community Shield with a difference

If Jose Mourinho was so eager to count it as a major honour, then who are we to argue against the Portuguese, who lifted the shield with both Chelsea and Manchester United.

This year's game is a little different in more ways than one, though, as for the first time since 1958 – when Bolton Wanderers beat Wolves 4-1 in the month of October – the showpiece will be held outside of August, a knock-on effect of the World Cup being staged midway through the campaign.

It is also the earliest in the calendar year the match has taken place since 1922 when Liverpool were beaten by Huddersfield Town in May.

Not only is the traditional date of the fixture different, so too is the venue. With Wembley being used for the Women's Euro 2022 final on Sunday, the contest will be held away from England's national stadium for the first time in a decade, since City beat Chelsea at Villa Park.

The game is instead being hosted by the King Power Stadium, and that could be bad news for Jurgen Klopp, who has lost more games at this venue (five) than he has at any other ground as Liverpool boss, excluding Anfield.

 

Reds' losing streak

There are plenty of familiarities this weekend, however, not least the fact that it will be City and Liverpool facing off for a trophy – albeit with this only their second encounter in the Community Shield, following City's penalty shoot-out success three years ago.

Liverpool are aiming to lift the trophy for a 16th time, which would move them level with Arsenal and behind only Manchester United (21), including occasions when the shield was shared. City are sixth on the list of all-time winners, seeking their seventh triumph this time around.

City may not have had as much success in the curtain-raising fixture down the years as Liverpool, but they have triumphed in three of their past five appearances – in 2012, 2018 and 2019.

The Reds' record is far less impressive in recent times, having lost four of their past six Community Shield matches, including each of the past two against City in 2019 and Arsenal in 2020.

 

Goals galore in Leicester?

If recent encounters between these sides have taught us anything, it is that we can expect to be entertained at the King Power Stadium on Saturday. 

Both teams have scored in eight of the past nine meetings between City and Liverpool in all competitions, including each of the past five in a row. Across those most recent nine matches, 33 goals have been netted in total – an average of 3.7 per game.

Last season alone saw both sides score at least twice in their three meetings in all competitions, which finished in a couple of four-goal draws in the league and a 3-2 win for Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-finals.

 

All eyes on Salah

Both sides will look slightly different following a busy period of transfers, and seeing how the likes of Erling Haaland, Kalvin Phillips, Darwin Nunez and Fabio Carvalho perform – if indeed used – will be one of the most exciting aspects.

There will be plenty of familiar faces on show, too, including Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, who has been involved in 11 goals in 14 games against City for the Reds, making them his second-favourite opponent behind West Ham (12 goal involvements).

Pep Guardiola will also hope to get some minutes out of Phil Foden, who has yet to feature in pre-season due to visa issues that prevented him travelling to the United States.

The England international enjoys playing against Liverpool, scoring and assisting a combined five goals against them in five starts, although he has failed to do so in his past two outings in this fixture.

Arsenal's Edu-led evolution is set to come to a head in the 2022-23 season, with the technical director stating publicly this week that a top-four finish is the target.

Inconsistency throughout last season, culminating in a poor run of form at the end of the campaign, saw Arsenal's absence from the Champions League extend to five years.

With Mikel Arteta at the helm and Edu leading the recruitment, the Gunners now believe this is their time and, with the Brazilian's comments in pre-season about this being the season for success in the long-term plan, the pressure is on.

Arsenal have brought in the likes of Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale in recent times, while they have also cemented the futures of young players like Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe.

One major piece of the puzzle was missing last season, however, with no striker to take the mantle of leading the line until Nketiah's purple patch – but the London club are hoping that will change with the capture of Gabriel Jesus.

Signed following a trophy-laden spell at Manchester City, the fact that Arsenal managed to land Jesus, in a World Cup year no less, is a feather in Edu's cap, but the real question is, can he end Arsenal's number nine curse?

Staggeringly, no number nine has hit 15 goals for the club in a Premier League season since the 1998-99 campaign, when Nicolas Anelka found the back of the net 17 times.

Since then, Davor Sukor, Francis Jeffers, Jose Antonio Reyes, Julio Baptista, Eduardo, Park Chu Young, Lukas Podolski and Lucas Perez have all graced the number nine shirt with varying, but largely disappointing, returns.

Alexandre Lacazette came closest with a 14-goal haul in his first Premier League season but, with just four top-flight goals last year, it was clear the Gunners needed a significant upgrade on the Frenchman.

Jesus has also fallen short of the 15-goal mark in his Premier League career, with a season-high of 14 in the 2019-20 campaign – though it is worth mentioning his City career has seen him be a member of the supporting cast, rather than the leading man.

He will be first choice through the middle at Arsenal and his numbers are encouraging compared to those who have recently had that role.

In Lacazette, Arsenal had a forward who scored 78 Premier League goals at a rate of 0.5 per 90 minutes, totalling just over 14,000 minutes in the competition– a record that Jesus easily beats.

Jesus has scored 95 Premier League goals at a rate of 0.6 per 90 minutes, playing just over 100 minutes more than the Frenchman – and his return is comparable to what Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang achieved during his stint at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal's former captain outscored both with 104 career Premier League goals, a rate of 0.65 per 90 minutes, but he played over 300 minutes more than Jesus did for City.

Again, his role for City was different, playing alongside the likes of Sergio Aguero and, when his fellow South American departed, Pep Guardiola elected to mainly utilise him in a wider area – limiting his opportunities in front of goal.

Through the middle, Jesus' task will be to improve the return in the final third where, during the 2021-22 season, Arsenal netted 39 goals in open play compared to an xG of 48.2.

A number of missed opportunities were high xG chances that, over the course of the season, could have made a significant difference in the battle for Champions League football.

What Arsenal lacked in a recognised striker, however, they made up for in other areas, with a further 21 goals over the course of the season coming from set-pieces.

Other areas where Arsenal shone included the goals they scored on the counter-attack, netting a joint league-high of six, which Jesus should be able to improve. Arsenal also hit the woodwork on 18 occasions, so they will be looking for the Brazilian to make them more clinical.

Pre-season has also been encouraging for the early part of Jesus' career in the capital, scoring four goals in as many games – including a well-taken chipped finish in the 4-0 Florida Cup drubbing of London rivals Chelsea.

Jesus should get support from Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, who both hit double figures for goals last season, while Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, Nketiah and Gabriel Magalhaes all scored at least five.

That ought to also help Jesus' assists return, with the 25-year-old providing 29 during his time at City – including eight last season, enough to be joint-top of the Premier League champions' assist charts alongside Kevin de Bruyne.

According to the numbers, Jesus is more than capable of being the man Arsenal have needed ever since Aubameyang's fall from grace – but he cannot do it alone and the Gunners need to be firing on all cylinders.

England are looking to avoid losing a fourth consecutive major tournament semi-final when they take on familiar foes Sweden at Bramall Lane on Tuesday.

The Lionesses cruised through the group stage, scoring a record 14 goals in the process, before surviving a scare to overcome Spain 2-1 after extra time in the quarter-finals.

Reaching this stage is nothing new for England, having also made it to the final four of the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, either side of their run to the semis at Euro 2017.

However, they suffered defeat on all three of those occasions, going down to Japan, the United States and the Netherlands respectively.

Fran Kirby played in each of those losses and is extra motivated to go at least one step further this time around on home soil.

"I don't want to be another player that loses in another semi-final and doesn't get to a final of a major tournament with England," she said.

"We spoke about the semi-finals we have lost previously and it takes a long time to recover from losing a semi-final like that. 

"I don't want to experience having to take a month to get over not getting to a final. It would mean everything to reach a final with this England team."

Ahead of the showdown in Sheffield, Stats Perform picks out some of the key Opta facts.

SEMI-FINAL PEDIGREE

Not only are England competing in a third straight major semi-final, this will also be their sixth appearance at this stage of the Euros (also 1984, 1987, 1995, 2009 and 2017).

They have progressed from just two of the previous five, though, and were heavily beaten 3-0 by the Dutch five years ago.

Sweden are into their ninth semi-final in this competition. After advancing from three of the first four, they have since lost three of the past four, most recently in 2013.

WE MEET AGAIN

England and Sweden are meeting in the Women's Euros for a seventh time, making it the third most played fixture behind Germany against Norway and Germany versus Italy.

The Lionesses have won only one of those past six encounters, with that solitary victory coming in the second leg of the 1984 final, which they went on to lose on penalties.

History is not only on Sweden's side when these sides meet in this competition, but also in overall meetings with England down the years.

Indeed, only against Germany (21) have England lost more times against an opponent than they have Sweden (15), with those defeats coming across 29 matches.

FORM SIDES COLLIDE

That past is the past, though, and England find themselves in superb form. With their comeback win against Spain, they have won 10 matches in a row – their best-ever streak.

Georgia Stanway's extra-time winner in that game was the 100th goal scored under head coach Sarina Wiegman in 18 matches, meaning they have averaged 5.6 goals per game.

That makes for a tantalising contest in Sheffield as Sweden are the highest-placed contender on the FIFA rankings list, sitting second behind the United States.

Bidding for a first trophy since the 1984 Euros, Sweden are undefeated since March 2020 and a staggering 34 matches in total.

Something has to give in this latest clash between the heavyweights, however, with a showdown against either Germany or France awaiting in Sunday's final.

Pep Guardiola is undergoing the biggest facelift of his Manchester City tenure in a bid to freshen up the squad in pursuit of a fifth Premier League title in six years and that elusive first Champions League crown for the Citizens.

Of the 27 players who made a first-team appearance in Guardiola's first season in charge at the Etihad Stadium in 2016-17, just four – Ederson, Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones and Kevin De Bruyne – remain in place.

It is very much a case of out with the old and in with the new in the blue half of Manchester this window, with Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Oleksandr Zinchenko and long-serving Fernandinho all making way.

The arrivals of Erling Haaland and Kalvin Phillips will arguably make City stronger than they were, while Stefan Ortega should be an improvement on Zack Steffen as back-up to Ederson, but Zinchenko's exit has left Guardiola light at left-back.

City have been strongly linked with Brighton and Hove Albion's Marc Cucurella, though the Seagulls' reported £50million asking price – £20m higher than the English champions are apparently willing to pay – has led to a standoff.

However, with a little over a month of the transfer window to run, there is still plenty of time for the clubs to negotiate a fee, or for City to instead switch focus elsewhere to other targets – if indeed they have any.

With that in mind, Stats Perform looks at exactly why the links with Cucurella are so strong, and the alternatives mentioned by Guardiola to provide competition to Joao Cancelo on the left side of defence this season.


MAKING HIS MARC OUTSIDE OF SPAIN

Zinchenko was far from a regular for City last season, starting just 18 of their 54 matches, but he was used a further 10 times from the substitutes' bench and provided an option both at left-back and in central midfield.

Versatility is a key component if a player is to thrive under Guardiola, and in Cucurella, the Catalan coach has a player also available to switch it up and play in a few different positions. 

The 24-year-old was used predominantly in his favoured left-back position last term, while also filling in as a left wing-back and as a left-sided centre-back at a time of need for Brighton, despite previous doubts over his ability to defend.

"There were people who said I couldn't play as a full-back because I couldn't defend, but now I'm proving I can even play as a centre-back in a back three," Cucurella told Spanish outlet Marca earlier this year.

"What I was looking for was to play as a full-back, which is what I have done all my life. I had never played left centre-back before, but [Brighton manager Graham Potter] has given me the confidence to feel very comfortable there."

Thrown in at the deep end as Brighton dealt with an injury crisis midway through the 2021-22 season – his first outside his native Spain – Cucurella more than passed the test and added further strings to his bow.

 

CUCURELLA THE ALL-ROUNDER

Whether operating at full-back, wing-back or centre-back, Cucurella helped Brighton keep 11 clean sheets in the Premier League last season, a tally that only six other clubs could better.

Far from being someone who is unable to defend, he led the way among players who played predominantly as full-backs in the English top flight last season in terms of winning back possession, doing so 247 times.

He also ranked behind only Tyrick Mitchell for tackles – 93 compared to the Crystal Palace youngster's 104 – showing he is happy to get stuck in when required.

The one cap Spain international also proved he is capable of attacking, with his 40 open-play chances placing him behind only Reece James (42) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (51), who are two of the finest full-backs around.

That translated to just one assist – Cancelo had seven last season, for context – but some of that can be put down to the finishing of Brighton's attacking players, rather than Cucurella alone failing to deliver from wide.

Indeed, his expected assists (xA) return of 2.82 last season, while maybe still looking low on the face of it, was still the 14th highest of any full-back.

Given his near decade spent in the Barcelona youth set-up and then on the fringes of the first team, it comes as no surprise to see Cucurella is very comfortable with the ball at his feet.

The 1,558 passes he completed last season was bettered – again among those who can be considered full-backs by trade – by only Andy Robertson (1,642), Alexander-Arnold (1,684) and Cancelo (2,516).

 

A GAMBLE WORTH TAKING?

On the basis of those numbers, and Guardiola's ability to further mould players in his own way, bringing in Cucurella this window really would make sense for City. The problem, of course, is Brighton's mammoth valuation.

In a window that has seen bit-part player Zinchenko join Arsenal for £32m, and given Cucurella has four more years to run on the deal signed last season, Albion see no reason to sell their reigning Fans and Players' Player of the Year.

Guardiola appears to be in no immediate rush to strengthen in that position and has suggested he is happy to stick with what he has if an agreement cannot be reached with Brighton.

"We are in negotiations. If it doesn't happen, we've alternatives," the Catalan said earlier this week. "Cancelo, Josh Wilson-Esbrand is a young talent, [Nathan] Ake can play there..."

While City do already boast one of – same would say the – best left-backs in world football on the basis of last season, going into the new campaign without any true cover in that position would be a risk.

Assuming reports of Brighton's £50m valuation are correct, City would be paying almost £20m more than they received from Arsenal for Zinchenko, and would take their net spend for the window to around £20m.

But when Guardiola truly wants a player, he tends to get him. Indeed, City have already splashed out £50m or more on Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Cancelo in the full-back department during Pep's time in charge.

As a player with Barcelona pedigree, who has proved himself in numerous positions in his short time in England and is still young enough to further adapt and improve, do not bet against Cucurella completing City's vast overhaul.

Forecasting which players will break out in a given NFL season is a difficult exercise.

New stars can come from anywhere. Highly drafted rookies can swiftly justify their selection, while others who have endured a less linear path to the highest level often emerge from the wilderness to become well-known names.

But, for those players who have already had the benefit of experience in the league, Stats Perform can look at the data to judge who is in a spot to potentially make the jump to stardom.

Such ascents are regularly a product of situation. Here we look at three offensive players and three defenders who find themselves in spots conducive to a possible breakout year in 2022.

Jalen Hurts - Philadelphia Eagles

Hurts making the leap in his third season in the league is largely contingent on how his skill set is utilised by the Eagles.

Playing behind an excellent offensive line that ranked fifth in pass-block win rate last season and with a host of playmakers now including A.J. Brown, Hurts looks set up for success in 2022.

But for that success to be realised, the Eagles must tailor their offense to what he does well. In 2021, where Hurts clearly excelled was in the play-action game. Hurts produced a well-thrown ball on 80.4 per cent of play-action pass attempts, averaging 16.78 air yards on those throws.

Though they averaged 9.2 yards per play when they ran play-action, the Eagles did so on only 13.07% of their passing plays. By contrast, they ran straight dropback pass plays on 39.21% of snaps but averaged just 7.35 yards per play. Philadelphia went to the quick game on 21.57% of snaps with an average of 5.31 yards per play.

Having acquired Brown, who thrived playing in a heavy play-action offense with the Tennessee Titans, the Eagles must lean more into the play-action looks to give Hurts the best chance of improving on a quietly efficient 2022.

It would not be a seismic shift in their offensive approach, but with the talent level on their roster, it is one that could propel the Eagles to a deep playoff run and allow Hurts to end questions about his legitimacy as the long-term starter.

Brandon Aiyuk - San Francisco 49ers

Drafted from the star-studded receiver class of 2020, Aiyuk has not produced at the same level of Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Tee Higgins.

That is partly a product of the many mouths there are to feed in the San Francisco offense and partly a result of him falling out of favour with head coach Kyle Shanahan early last season.

However, Aiyuk worked his way back to being a focal point of the Niners offense down the stretch in 2021, producing a string of key plays during their surge into the postseason.

Aiyuk produced a big play on 40.8% of his 98 targets last season – fourth among wide receivers with at least 50 targets in 2021. Delivering a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.3% of his targets, his 16 receptions of 20 yards or more were tied for 12th in the NFL.

His numbers in that regard appear likely to improve as the 49ers transition from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance at quarterback. Only one quarterback with a minimum of 50 attempts last season – Drew Lock (10.20) – averaged more air yards per attempt than Lance (10.10). Garoppolo’s 7.38 per attempt was below the league average of 7.99.

Aiyuk is an excellent route runner who brings yards-after-the-catch upside and has already shown signs of building a rapport with Lance, catching four passes for 94 yards in the 2021 third overall pick’s second start against the Houston Texans. 

If that rapport is furthered with a quarterback who should greatly improve the downfield threat posed by the San Francisco passing attack, 2022 could be the season in which Aiyuk establishes himself as another gem from a receiver class that has already emphatically lived up to its billing.

David Njoku - Cleveland Browns

The Browns have been waiting for an Njoku breakout since drafting him in the first round in 2017, and they are seemingly banking on it coming in the near future.

Cleveland signed Njoku to a four-year, $56.75 million extension this offseason having initially placed the franchise tag on the former Miami Hurricanes tight end. Those moves were made despite Njoku having a career-high in receiving yards of 639, which was in 2018.

Njoku has struggled with injuries – never starting more than 14 games in a season – but there’s evidence to suggest this will be the year he puts it all together. Last season, Njoku had a mediocre burn rate of 57.7%, but Rob Gronkowski (12.87) and Dallas Goedert (12.39) were the only tight ends with at least 25 targets to average more burn yards per target.

He was tied for 10th in burn yards per route (2.3) and 14th in big play rate (29.9%) and, assuming he stays healthy, will likely be the number two target behind Amari Cooper for the Browns in 2022.

The Browns' offense has recently been built around the running ability of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but Deshaun Watson (if and when he is allowed to play) offers the passing game a significantly higher ceiling.

With the Browns’ wide receiver options beyond Cooper lacking in experience, Njoku stands to benefit greatly from that additional upside through an increased target share and the efficiency numbers from 2021 paint the picture of a player who will take advantage of his extra opportunities.

Christian Barmore - New England Patriots

New England suffered a self-inflicted talent drain in the secondary, but the impact of the loss of J.C. Jackson and Co. may be minimised if the Patriots can get more from the defensive front.

The Patriots were seventh in pass-rush win rate last year, so it is fair to question how much more of a jump they can make in that regard. But Barmore is the one who may fuel such a leap.

New England's second-round pick from 2021 had just 1.5 sacks last season. However, he ranked eighth among defensive tackles with at least 100 one-on-one pass rush matchups with a stunt-adjusted win rate of 38.34%.

He achieved a top-10 finish in that metric despite being double-team blocked 127 times. Only seven defenders were double teamed more often. 

Converting those pass-rush wins into sacks will be the aim in 2022 and, if he continues to dominate his matchups in his second year and the Patriots get the consistency from edge rushers Matthew Judon and Josh Uche to reduce the number of double teams, Barmore's production should see a significant improvement.

Pete Werner - New Orleans Saints

Off-ball linebackers might not move the needle like they once did, but Werner is set to step into a starting role alongside Demario Davis on a Saints defense that is still expected to be among the best in the NFL.

Werner allowed a burn on 13 of his 27 targets in coverage, and his ratio of 48.1% was above the league average for linebackers with at least 25 targets (50.8).

His burn yards per target allowed average of 8.08 yards was 18th for the players at his position to meet that threshold. Werner allowed a big play on 17.4% of his targets, also putting him comfortably on the right side of the ledger for that metric (the average was 19.8%).

On top of that, his run disruption rate of 12.1% was eighth for all linebackers with a minimum of 50 run defense snaps.

In a hugely encouraging rookie year, Werner proved he is ready to step up to the starting role.

Playing on a defense stacked with talent on the front and in the secondary, he is in a situation to make a massive impact for a unit that may have to carry the load if the Saints are to return to the playoffs in 2022.

Rashad Fenton - Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs suffered an underrated loss in free agency as cornerback Charvarius Ward departed for San Francisco. Ward allowed a burn on just 39.8% of targets in 2021 – the fourth-best rate among corners with at least 50 targets.

His departure will likely see Fenton and L'Jarius Sneed start at corner this season, though the Chiefs did add Trent McDuffie to their secondary in the draft.

The numbers indicate Fenton will rise to the challenge. He was second in burn yards per target (7.71) and third in burn yards per snap (1.22) allowed last year (min. 50 targets).

He gave up a big play on just 15.2% of targets – the third-best ratio in the league for the position. Fenton's consistency in producing tight coverage should fuel optimism he can ensure Ward's exit is not one that will cause the secondary to struggle.

Fenton has only two interceptions and 18 pass breakups to his name in three seasons. Another year of stingy coverage combined with more on-ball production for a Chiefs team likely to go deep into January again would raise the profile of an under-the-radar but very talented corner.

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