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.

When England came off the pitch at the Amex Stadium against Norway nine days ago, they had just wiped the floor with their Group A opponents, dispatching them 8-0.

Suffice to say the return to Brighton to face Spain in the last eight was a more difficult encounter for Sarina Wiegman's side, but they showed true grit and determination to advance to the semi-finals at the Women’s European Championships.

Spain had been the last team to stop England from winning, with their 0-0 draw in February being the final result before the Lionesses went on a nine-game winning streak (now 10). They were also the only side that England had failed to score against in their first 17 games under Wiegman.

However, a hard-working performance from the hosts saw them come from behind to secure a 2-1 extra-time victory, eliminating one of the other pre-tournament favourites.

Prior to the game, La Roja boss Jorge Vilda appeared to be playing mind games, aiming to put pressure on his opponents.

"If I imagine Spain playing a quarter-final against England, in a home Euros they had organised, a Spain team playing in a big Spanish stadium, I imagine this would weigh on us. I think this could take away more than it gives," he said at his pre-match news conference.

He appeared to be correct as England struggled to find anything like the fluency they enjoyed in recent games for much of normal time, whether it was nerves or a well-executed Spain gameplan.

It was a tentative start on the English south coast, clear immediately that Spain would be a tougher proposition than Norway. They had lost only one game (v Germany in the group stage) in their previous 26 international matches (W21 D4), so were always going to be a hard nut for England to crack.

Mariona Caldentey was causing problems for Lucy Bronze down the Spain left and had the first shot on target after 16 mins as the visitors started to impose their possession game, giving England a problem they were yet to face in the tournament so far.

Olga Carmona was tasked with keeping tournament top scorer Beth Mead quiet and achieved just that as the England star was unable to exert any authority on the game.

Despite being largely on the back foot, the hosts thought they had taken the lead in the 37th minute when a free-kick was headed down into the path of Ellen White, who fired home, only for an offside flag to correctly go up, with White denied the chance to equal Wayne Rooney's England record of 53 goals.

Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas was an obvious miss for Vilda's side. The Barcelona captain finished as the Champions League's top goalscorer with 11 goals last season and ended her domestic campaign with 18.

Spain's most capped player (100), who also won the FIFA Best Women's Player award in 2021, will miss the next 10-12 months with an ACL injury, and would have likely been a key factor in this one as La Roja dominated the ball for large spells but struggled to find their way through Wiegman's team.

England, who were 6-0 up at half-time when they played Norway, managed just the one shot in the opening 45 minutes here, and that did not arrive until the 40th minute, with Spain having six.

The Lionesses started the second half brightly, though, noticeably pressing higher up the pitch and with more fervour.

However, it was half-time Spain substitute, Athenea del Castillo, who produced a bit of magic to open the scoring, jinking inside Rachel Daly from the right before cutting back to Esther Gonzalez, who turned and finished well past Mary Earps in the 54th minute.

Wiegman responded by making her own substitutions, surprisingly removing Mead and White for Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly.

It almost made a difference straight away as Russo flicked a ball on for Lauren Hemp, who was brought down in the penalty area, but referee Stephanie Frappart waved away the claims much to the annoyance of the vocal home fans.

It appeared England had given all they had, until another substitute made the difference as Ella Toone ran onto a Russo knockdown to prod the ball past Sandra Panos and equalise with six minutes remaining.

That forced extra-time and momentum swung in England's favour as Georgia Stanway went on a run through the middle before unleashing a ferocious strike past Panos from 25 yards to send the home fans into raptures.

Stanway's effort was the 100th goal England have scored under Wiegman in just her 18th game in charge, and the 11th from outside the penalty area.

It was now Spain who looked like they had run out of ideas, and despite a couple of minor scares, England held on to seal their place in the final four and show they may not always need to dominate games to get the job done.

A great roar went up from the 28,994 in attendance in Brighton, enough to frighten the local seagulls, as England celebrated a hard-fought victory.

If the thrashing of Norway had shown what England were capable of when at full flow, this win displayed another weapon in the arsenal that the hosts will likely have to call on again if they are to go all the way.

"England have won the World Cup – by the barest of margins. By the barest of all margins. Absolute ecstasy for England. Agony, agony for New Zealand!"

Those were the words from commentator Ian Smith that stick long in the memory from the dramatic 2019 World Cup final, England winning the 50-over competition after a culmination of four years of planning.

But Smith's dramatic exclamation, the spectacle, and the complete chaos at Lord's would not have been possible without Christchurch-born Ben Stokes.

England were reeling at 86-4 chasing 242 in tricky conditions against an unrelenting New Zealand attack, before Stokes – aided by a fortuitous dive – struck an unbeaten 84 to take the final to a Super Over.

Not satisfied with his fifth half-century of the tournament, and arguably the greatest white-ball innings of all time, Stokes added eight runs in the subsequent Super Over as England were crowned world champions on the bizarre boundary countback ruling.

The all-rounder's crowning moment in white-ball cricket came just three years after conceding four consecutive sixes in the last over of the T20 World Cup final as Carlos Braithwaite powered West Indies to victory.

That response typified the gritty character of Stokes, whose decision on Monday came to prolong his Test captaincy and career with England.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at the data underpinning a remarkable ODI career, which came to an end after Stokes' last outing against South Africa at home ground Durham on Tuesday.

Australian dominance

Stokes will further haunt Australian cricket after his Headingley heroics, though he laid the platform for years of torment in ODI cricket.

The 31-year-old posted his maiden ODI fifty against Australia in Perth in 2014 and recorded his best career figures in the format against England's fierce rivals, taking 5-61 in 2013 at Southampton.

He also managed his highest score in 50-over internationals against Australia, finishing unbeaten on 102 in the Champions Trophy in 2017 at Edgbaston in a one-sided victory for England.

Despite playing his most ODIs against India (20), Stokes accumulated his most runs against a single country when playing Australia (652 in 17 matches).

While enjoying various clashes with Australia, Stokes' ODI career ended with somewhat of a whimper, managing just 48 runs in three innings against India before scoring only five in his final match at Durham.

Though failing to deliver in the closing stages of a glittering 50-over international career that spanned 11 years, Stokes retired having scored 2,924 runs at an average of 38.98.

That included three centuries, 21 fifties and just six ducks, having bludgeoned 238 fours and 88 maximums. His strike rate of 95.26 is the sixth-highest among England batters to have played over 50 innings.

With the ball, Stokes bowled 518.2 overs – 3,110 deliveries – and claimed 74 dismissals at an average of 42.39, going at just over a run-a-ball six runs per over throughout his career.

The complete cricketer

"No way! No, no way! You cannot do that, Ben Stokes," Nasser Hussain exclaimed on Sky Sports as Stokes produced a remarkable leap and one-handed catch over his head to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo in England's World Cup opening 104-run win over South Africa in 2019.

Stokes will take rightful plaudits for his batting and bowling achievements, but credit must also be granted for his fielding ability – a star in all three facets of the game.

Only seven players have taken more catches for England in ODI cricket than the 49 of Stokes.

He is also part of an exclusive club of players to take three catches in a single ODI innings for England, with Chris Woakes (four against Pakistan in 2019) the only player to take more in one match.

Employed in the hot zones where the ball is expected to go, whether that be deep-midwicket, long-on or extra cover, Jos Buttler's side will sorely miss Stokes' athleticism and gun fielding.

Leaving a Lord's legacy

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The inevitability of Stokes' Lord's heroics was undeniable, though none could expect victory to come about in the fashion it did.

He scored five fifties and averaged 66.4 across 10 innings in the World Cup that ended with the defining innings of a game viewed by many as the greatest of all time.

Yet without a contentious umpiring decision in a moment of carnage and a Trent Boult overstep on the boundary, Stokes would never had the opportunity to be the hero for England.

Stokes, requiring nine off three to win the final, produced a despairing dive and saw his outstretched bat deflect the ball to the boundary for four overthrows and six runs in total – a clear umpiring mistake.

But with two needed off the final ball, Stokes opted to nudge a full toss into the leg side, appreciating a one would keep England in the game as opposed to taking the risk of being caught, such was his calculated thinking amid the chaos in Lord's sun.

More heroics were to follow in the Super Over, smashing eight off just three balls to take England to 15 before Buttler and Jason Roy's run-out of Martin Guptill sealed a memorable triumph.

Fittingly, Stokes finished with five fours and two sixes in his match-defining 84 off 98 deliveries, the most times a player found the rope in the final that was decided by boundary countback.

If his ODI legacy is defined by one game, it should be the one in which he held his nerve while chaos ensued all around him.

England tackle Spain in a heavyweight quarter-final as the knockout stages of Euro 2022 get under way on Wednesday, with records already tumbling and data quirks around every corner.

The tournament has just passed its halfway stage in terms of the total number of games, with 16 of 31 having been played, and already more spectators have seen the finals in England than have attended any previous Women's Euros.

UEFA said 369,314 tickets were sold for group-stage games, with the soaring popularity of the women's game meaning the tournament attendance record of 240,055, set in the Netherlands five years ago, has been obliterated.

Sarina Wiegman's free-scoring England Lionesses have played an instrumental part in the tournament's success to date, with the host nation rallying around a team who scored a record 14 goals in the group stage, with Beth Mead's personal haul of five goals so far also a new all-time best for the group round.

Now the knockout stages await and the stakes are raised. Stats Perform, assisted by data from Opta, has looked at the tournament so far, plus each last-eight game, to see where the title might be won and lost.


The story so far

England have been the deadliest finishers, scoring 14 goals with a conversion rate of 24.6 per cent. Sweden sit next on that list, putting away 23.5 per cent of chances to net eight goals, five of which came in their final group game against Portugal.

France have scored all eight of their goals in the first half of their games, while England have hit nine before the interval and added five afterwards. The Netherlands have only scored twice prior to half-time in their games but have netted six second-half strikes, the most of all teams.

Switzerland exited after losing in painfully familiar fashion, with a second-half capitulation in going down 4-1 to the Dutch. The Swiss kept three first-half clean sheets in Group C but were pushovers after the interval, conceding eight times. In sharp contrast, all three of the goals Spain have shipped have come in the opening 45 minutes.

Spain have played the most passes overall, excluding crosses. Their total of 2,052 passes has come with an 86.0 per cent accuracy rate, while England have attempted the second highest number of passes (1,674) with a competition-leading 86.5 per cent precision.

The Spanish national team are famed for their possession-based, attractive football, teasing their way through defences with clever passes. Yet four of Spain's five goals have been headers, compared to three of 14 for England.

Mead sits top of the goal involvements list with seven (five goals, two assists), which puts her comfortably ahead of England team-mate Fran Kirby and Sweden's Kosovare Asllani, both of whom have scored once and set up three goals for a total of four involvements each.

Spain have the top five on the list of players with the most passes in the opposition half, led by defender Mapi Leon who has played 176 passes with a success rate of 90.3 per cent. For passes into the final third, Leon's accuracy dips to 83 per cent.


Best is still to come...

QUARTER-FINAL 1: Spain v England – July 20, Brighton

England have a record of played two, won two in previous Women's Euros quarter-finals, beating Finland 3-2 in 2009 and then edging France 1-0 five years ago in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Spain have lost both of their previous games at this stage, going down 3-1 to Norway in 2013 and suffering a penalty shoot-out defeat to Austria in 2017, following a goalless draw.

Four of England's starters from the 2017 win over France have played in every game so far at these finals: Lucy Bronze, Mille Bright, Kirby and Ellen White.

England have never lost on home soil against Spain (P7 W4 D3), with the teams battling out a 0-0 draw when they last met in February. However, Spain have beaten England three times before when taking all 15 previous encounters into account, losing six and drawing six.

Including a 20-0 win over Latvia last November, England have scored 98 goals in their 17 games under head coach Sarina Wiegman, scoring an average of 5.8 goals per game and only conceding three times.

Mead's haul of five goals so far matches Jodie Taylor's Lionesses record haul from the last Euros, which won her the Golden Boot. Spain have scored five goals in total during this tournament, with five different scorers.

QF2: Germany v Austria – July 21, Brentford

Germany are one of two teams, along with England, who have yet to concede a goal. That does not bode well for Austria, who are making their second appearance at this stage after beating Norway in the last round of group games.

The Austrians will start as big underdogs against the eight-time champions (winners once as West Germany, seven times as Germany), with Germany having won 15 of their most recent 16 games when going beyond the group stages. That had been a 15-game winning run until Denmark halted it in the 2017 quarter-finals, scoring a surprise 2-1 win.

Austria might need Barbara Dunst's luck to change if they are to stand any chance. Dunst has had 11 shots and created eight chances for Austria so far in this tournament, but she has yet to score or have an assist. She had the most direct involvements in shots (19) without scoring or assisting of all players in the group stage.

QF3: Sweden v Belgium – July 22, Leigh

Sweden are the highest-placed team on the FIFA ranking list, sitting second, behind the United States. They are quietly going about their business in England, and it would be a major surprise for them not to reach the semi-finals from this tie.

Including penalties, Sweden scored more goals from set-pieces than any other side in the group stage (5). Belgium might be concerned by that, given two of the three goals they have conceded came from dead-ball scenarios.

Of the eight quarter-finalists, Belgium scored the joint-fewest goals (3) in the group stage, had the fewest shots (21), the fewest shots on target (11) and the lowest expected goals total (2.6). The Red Flames surely need to find more of a spark for this big game.

QF4: France v Netherlands – July 23, Rotherham

France will be playing a fourth consecutive match in Rotherham, a town which is twinned with the French city of Saint-Quentin.

This is also a fourth consecutive Women's Euros quarter-final for France, who have lost each time at this stage, including a penalty shoot-out defeat to the Netherlands in 2009. They were beaten on spot-kicks by Denmark in 2013, and then slumped 1-0 to England in 2017. France have lost star striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto to an ACL knee injury, so memories of fast-flowing football in their opening 5-1 win over Italy are becoming distant.

Defending their title this time, the Netherlands have lost Euro 2017 player of the tournament Lieke Martens to injury and star goalscorer Vivianne Miedema has been sidelined of late after a COVID-19 positive test.

Yet the Dutch have progressed on each of the two occasions they have reached the quarter-finals previously, with the win over France in 2009 followed in 2017 by a 2-0 victory over Sweden.

With the end of one transfer saga comes the start of another. 

Robert Lewandowski has secured a long-awaited move to Barcelona, fulfilling a "dream" in the process and leaving Bayern Munich in the market for a new striker to lead their line.

But just how do you go about finding a like-for-like replacement for the most prolific marksman anywhere in the world?

One suggestion is that Bayern will make do with what they have, with Sadio Mane – a wide forward rather than a striker – having already been recruited from Liverpool this window.

While that may work, there are other potential options out there for Bayern to consider ahead of their latest title defence as they aim to win the Bundesliga for an 11th time in a row.

Here, Stats Perform takes a closer look at exactly what the Bavarian giants are losing in Lewandowski, and where they could go next.


LEWY LEADS THE WAY

Labelling Lewandowski as the best striker in European football is not hyperbolic when assessing the cold hard facts. 

The Poland international is coming off the back of a campaign that saw him register 50 goals in 46 games in all competitions, which is six goals more than the next-best Karim Benzema among players from Europe's top five leagues.

 

It is not like Lewandowski's output levels were dropping, either. The 35 league goals he registered last season are second only to the record-breaking 41 netted in the 2020-21 campaign across his 12 seasons in the German top flight with Borussia Dortmund and then Bayern.

Indeed, he has finished as the league's top scorer in each of the past five seasons, scoring 161 goals across that period, with no other player managing such a long streak in the competition's history. 


BEST OF THE REST

Put simply, Bayern surely cannot match those numbers with one player alone. If it is a pure goalscorer the German champions are after to fill the void, the aforementioned Benzema would be their best bet, the Real Madrid striker having scored 44 goals in 46 games last time out.

Persuading Madrid to let go of their focal point in attack would be nigh-on impossible, of course, likewise with Kylian Mbappe – Europe's third most prolific player in the 2021-22 season (39 goals in 46 games) – at Paris Saint-Germain.

Next on that particular list is RB Leipzig's highly-rated talent Cristopher Nkunku, who scored 35 goals in 52 matches last season and also chipped in with 16 assists. When purely weighing up goal involvements, Nkunku was only five short of Lewandowski last season, in a team with far less quality.

 

Indeed, Nkunku's 35 strikes last season came from an expected goals (xG) value of 28.23, meaning that he found the net 6.77 times more than he should have judging by the quality of the chances. Only Benzema (9.9) can better than across Europe's top five leagues.

Nkunku is not strictly a number nine, though, and his arrival – even if Bayern could tempt Leipzig into selling – would mean Julian Nagelsmann having to adapt his system in the final third of the field.


FORGET KANE... GO FOR KALAJDZIC

The likes of Timo Werner, Patrick Schick and Harry Kane are other names to have been touted as possible replacements for Lewandowski. Kane in particular would suit Bayern's system, and Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn admitted last week it would be a "dream" signing – while at the same time completely dismissing a move for wantaway Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

With another couple of years to run on Kane's contract, however, and Tottenham demanding a nine-figure sum from Manchester City this time last year, the Bavarians would have to spend big to bring in the England international.

For a club that has only once spent in excess of €40m on an attacking player – Leroy Sane from Manchester City two years ago – and having already splashed the cash to bring in Mane from Liverpool, that seems unlikely to happen.

 

There is more than goals alone to judging just how good a striker is, of course, and some players are certainly more attainable than others. Look no further than Sasa Kalajdzic, who boasts a number of qualities suited to Nagelsmann, not least his presence in the box.

At six foot and seven inches, Kalajdzic is one of the tallest players around and knows how to put that to good use, with exactly half of his 22 Bundesliga goals coming via his head.

Despite playing just 22 top-flight matches since his Stuttgart debut at the end of the 2019-20 season, those 11 headed goals are bettered only by Andre Silva (12) and – him again – Lewandowski (13), who have played 45 and 83 games in that period respectively.

Kalajdzic may have missed most of last season through injury, but six goals in 15 games for a side involved in a relegation scrap suggests he is a player with plenty of potential and, just as importantly, likely to be gettable, as Stuttgart director Sven Mislintat recently admitted given the 25-year-old is out of contract next year.

 

MANE AND GNABRY TO STEP UP?

Away from the dream options and outside picks to take over from Lewandowski, Kahn himself said last week that in Mane his side already have a ready-made replacement.

Position wise that is not technically true, of course, but there is no doubt that Mane's goals return across his six seasons with Liverpool was mightily impressive.

With 120 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, he averaged a goal every 189 minutes – exactly one every two matches. Mane also assisted 37 goals, meaning he was directly involved in a goal every 137 minutes. 

In the Premier League, only 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.

 

Unlike with Liverpool's front three, Bayern have been used to having one focal point up top in Lewandowski.

Serge Gnabry, who recently signed a contract extension at the Allianz Arena, can also play through the middle if called upon, and has done so to good effect for the Germany national side.

If reports from the German media are to be believed, that is the route Nagelsmann will have to go down for the 2022-23 season until a big-name number nine can be recruited further down the line.

Whether it will work will be intriguing to see, with the only certainty in all this being that Bayern can no longer turn to go-to man Lewandowski in their time of need.

For years, there has been talk of the NFL entering an era of 'positionless' football and, looking back on the 2021 season, there is a case to be made that it's finally here.

With the league dominated by dual-threat quarterbacks and defenses increasingly reliant on secondary defenders who can move around the field, the phrase 'the more you can do' has never more definitively applied to the NFL – at least not since the bygone era of the two-way player.

Indeed, players who can excel in several positions and fulfil a multitude of different roles are more valuable than ever, with three of the teams that made last season's final four dependent on players who are among the league's most versatile.

Using advanced data, Stats Perform can break down the league's multi-faceted stars and look at some of the more versatile players who have flown somewhat under the radar.

The NFC West Unicorns

Aaron Donald - Los Angeles Rams

We would be remiss to mention the most versatile players in the league and not start it with Donald.

Donald is the NFL's pre-eminent defensive player and the most remarkable aspect of his dominance is that he maintains it irrespective of where he lines up on the defensive line.

His pressure rate of 28.1 per cent last year led all interior defensive linemen and it only dipped to 27.7 per cent when he moved out to the edge, though he did so for just 94 pass-rush snaps in 2021 compared to 448 from his defensive tackle position.

And 108 of his 127 pressures on the inside involved him beating a pass protector. That was the case for 23 of his 26 edge pressures, which illustrates his ability to confound offensive linemen regardless of whether he's working within tight confines or from wide-open space.

Jalen Ramsey - Los Angeles Rams

Donald is the engine of the Los Angeles defense, but a unit that has leaned on its top-end talent would not have remained among the league's elite if not for the presence of arguably the NFL's top secondary defender.

Ramsey still played the vast majority of his snaps as an outside corner in 2021, playing 784 in that position. However, as the 'star' player on the Los Angeles defense, Ramsey spends most of his time locked on an opponent's top receiver, which frequently means playing in the slot.

Indeed, Ramsey played 366 snaps in the slot and was outstanding when lined up there. Targeted 31 times from the slot, Ramsey allowed a burn, which is when a receiver wins a matchup on a play in which they're targeted, 38.7 per cent of the time. The league average for slot corners with at least 50 coverage snaps was 50.7 per cent.

Ramsey posted the ninth-lowest burn yards per target average (5.84) and was the seventh-best slot by big play rate. He gave up a big play on just 6.5 per cent of targets.

His numbers as an outside corner were less impressive. Ramsey gave up a burn 48 per cent of the time and surrendered 10.32 burn yards per target. However, his big-play rate allowed of 19.4 per cent was still better than the average of 26.1 per cent (min. 50 snaps) and amounted to him giving up 15 big plays on 75 targets across 398 coverage snaps.

In other words, Ramsey allowed a big play on under four per cent of his coverage snaps as an outside corner. The 'lockdown defender' tag applies to Ramsey wherever he is on the field.

Deebo Samuel - San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have dug in their heels and refused to indulge Samuel's trade request, with their determination to hold on to the wide receiver unsurprising given his outsized value to San Francisco's offense.

Samuel is to the 49ers' offense what Donald is to the Rams' defense. Last season, he was the reason it worked and the reason the Niners came agonisingly close to completing three wins over the Rams and claiming the NFC championship.

In a career year for Samuel, he racked up 1,405 receiving yards, leading the league with 18.2 yards per reception while his 10.1 yards after catch average was also the best among wideouts.

Yet it was the way in which the Niners utilised his ability in the open field to turn him into a de-facto running back in the second half of last season that weaponized the San Francisco offense.

When lined up in the backfield as a running back, Samuel averaged 6.58 yards per rush last season. He recorded 4.11 yards before contact per attempt, 2.67 yards after contact and averaged 4.77 yards per attempt on carries in which there was a run disruption by a defender. 

No running back could match his yards per carry average or top his performance on rushes disrupted by a defender. Rashaad Penny of the Seattle Seahawks and Dontrell Hilliard of the Tennessee Titans were the only players with over 50 carries at running back to average over 4.0 yards before contact per rush. Kareem Hunt (2.84) of the Cleveland Browns was the only player to average more yards after contact per attempt than Samuel.

With the option to hand the ball off to Samuel or flare him out and get him the ball on screens, lining Deebo up in the backfield allowed the Niners to limit Donald's impact for long periods and lessen Ramsey's effectiveness when he played the 'star' role by forcing him to follow Samuel into the box.

The duplicity Samuel brings in his hybrid receiver-running back role is critical to head coach Kyle Shanahan winning the play-calling chess match. Despite his trade demands, it's why the Niners will ensure he remains on their board.

Cooper Kupp - Los Angeles Rams

While Kupp may not do the damage Samuel does out of the backfield, it is impossible to leave the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year off this list.

Kupp was the only receiver in the NFL last season to finish in the top five in burn yards per route as an outside receiver (fourth, 3.9) and from the slot (third, 4.0).

On top of that, he was fifth in big-play rate among outside receivers with at least 50 targets, registering an explosive on 39.7 per cent of targets. Only two wideouts, Christian Kirk (36.7) of the Arizona Cardinals and Cedrick Wilson (36.5) of the Dallas Cowboys produced a higher rate of big plays from the slot than Kupp's 36.4 per cent.

Lined up for 24 snaps as a running back, Kupp was also utilised as a safety net for Matthew Stafford out of the backfield on occasion. His proficiency in contributing to pass protection by blocking defenders before getting out into his route perfectly encapsulated just how well-rounded of a player he has become.

Queens on the Chessboard

Cordarrelle Patterson - Atlanta Falcons

Patterson was overdrafted by the Minnesota Vikings back in 2013, but he carved out a hybrid role last season in the Atlanta offense in which he, like Samuel, spent time in the backfield and lined up as a receiver.

Designated as a running back, Patterson averaged 4.07 yards per carry, racking up 2.0 yards after contact per attempt and 3.06 yards per attempt on rushes in which there was a disruption by a defender.

Among running backs who registered 100 carries and were targeted 50 times, Patterson's 22.6 per cent big-play rate on passing targets was the highest in the NFL. Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints was second at 21.3.

With the Falcons transitioning to a new era at quarterback as Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder compete for the job, Patterson's ability to create yards after contact as a runner and explosive plays on routes out of the backfield will again be extremely valuable in 2022.

Between Patterson, Kyle Pitts and first-round pick Drake London, the Falcons have a trio of malleable playmakers who can ensure the offense is still explosive as they move away from the Matt Ryan era.

Travis Kelce - Kansas City Chiefs

In terms of value to his team, Kelce rivals Samuel with the multiple roles he plays for the Chiefs and the importance of him excelling from several spots will likely increase in 2022 following the Chiefs' trade of Tyreek Hill.

One of the league's most effective 'power slots' who uses his size and route running to his advantage when lined up as a de-facto slot receiver, Kelce played 333 snaps in that position in 2021.

He played 184 as an outside receiver and 136 from his traditional in-line tight end spot in an encapsulation of the evolution of a position that has grown ever more multi-faceted.

Kelce's burn rate from all three spots was over 70 per cent. He won his matchup with a defender on 79.1 per cent of targets as an in-line tight end. That ratio dipped to 76.3 per cent as an outside receiver and 74.4 per cent from the slot.

The majority of his big plays, however, came when he lined up outside. Kelce produced a big play on 34.8 per cent of his targets as an outside receiver and 32.3 per cent from the slot. He was not as explosive as an in-line tight end, a spot from where he delivered a big play 25.8 per cent of the time.

Though the numbers at each alignment may differ, they all paint the same picture: a playmaker who gets open regardless of where he is on the field. Combined with his underrated blocking, Kelce's remarkable versatility makes him one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL.

Elgton Jenkins - Green Bay Packers

Jenkins has played every position in the trenches apart from right guard during his three seasons in the NFL, and in that time he has established himself as one of the best young offensive linemen in the NFL and an integral part of the Packers' attack.

Last season, Jenkins played the entirety of his snaps at left tackle before injury curtailed his campaign after eight games. He allowed only 11 pressures on 163 pass protection snaps, with his pressure rate of 6.7 per cent superior to the average of 9.2 per cent among left tackles.

Prior to that in 2020, Jenkins played most of his snaps at left guard, but also filled in at center and made cameos at both tackle spots. His pressure rate of 4.7 per cent was fifth among left guards that year. At center, he gave up a pressure on just 2.1 per cent of snaps – the third-best rate among players at the position.

Essentially, Jenkins is a rare breed of offensive lineman who can hold up in pass protection at every position on the offensive front. He appears set to slot in at right tackle for 2022, but Jenkins will likely be the first person the Packers call upon if they have an injury at another spot up front.

Ambidextrous Defenders

Micah Parsons - Dallas Cowboys

Parsons claimed NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021 thanks to an exceptional first-year campaign that saw him make an unexpectedly outsized impact as a pass rusher.

On 220 pass-rush snaps, Parsons generated 69 pressures for a pressure rate of 31.4 per cent that was tops among linebackers with at least 50 pass rushes.

Parsons spent 153 of those snaps on the edge but also proved extremely effective in coverage. Allowing a burn on 41.9 per cent of targets last season, Parsons gave up only 6.86 yards per target – the fourth-fewest among linebackers targeted at least 25 times.

Also second for his position with a run disruption rate of 16.4 per cent, Parsons swiftly proved his ability to influence every facet of the game and his multiplicity will make him somebody opposing play-callers will constantly have to think about when game planning for the Cowboys.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah - Cleveland Browns

Though Parsons was the standout defensive rookie in the league last season, he was not the best first-year linebacker in coverage. That distinction went to Owusu-Koramoah, who slid to the second round of the 2021 draft and went on to lead all linebackers with 5.83 burn yards per target allowed and give up a big-play rate of 4.5 per cent that was also the best for the position.

Owusu-Koramoah played most of his snaps (414) at inside linebacker but also spent time at outside linebacker, on the edge and in the slot on top of a handful of snaps at outside corner.

He did not pass rush often, logging just 27 snaps in that regard, but gained nine pressures for a pressure rate of 33.0 per cent. Against the run, he registered a disruption rate of 15.3 per cent.

Owusu-Koramoah is a player the Browns can trust to hold up in man and zone coverage and has the flexibility to operate in almost every position in the back seven. He can play the run extremely well and has produced encouraging flashes as a pass rusher to suggest he can grow in that area.

Any success the Browns enjoy on defense in 2022 will likely in part be a product of Owusu-Koramoah's malleability.

Chuck Clark - Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens added Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams to their safety room this offseason but have, to this point, kept hold of Clark.

On the surface, that may be something of a surprise. However, a deeper dive into the numbers illustrates the value he has to Baltimore's defense.

Though Clark operated at free safety for 526 snaps in 2021, he also played 108 at strong safety, 97 in the slot, 81 on the edge and over 100 at linebacker.

He defended double-digit targets from free safety, strong safety and in the slot. Only at free safety did he allow more 10 burn yards per target.

His average of 8.01 burn yards allowed per target when lined up as a deep safety was 12th in the NFL. In the slot, he gave up 9.25 per target – better than the average of 9.53 for slots with at least 50 snaps.

With Williams set to slide in at free safety, Hamilton and Clark will have the freedom to roam around the field in three-safety looks and their proficiency in playing the slot should offer the Ravens more answers in defending tight ends and the bigger wideouts that are spending an increasing amount of time on the inside.

Under the Radar Rovers

Kamren Curl - Washington Commanders

Sticking at the safety position and with teams that play their football in Maryland, Curl has quietly emerged as a stud who can fulfil a variety of roles in the defensive backfield.

Last season, Curl played 342 snaps as a free safety, 211 in the slot, 90 as a strong safety, 56 as an inside linebacker, 53 as an outside linebacker and 45 as an outside corner. To say the Commanders have confidence in him all over the field is putting it mildly.

Lined up as a deep safety, Curl allowed 6.02 burn yards per target – the best ratio in the NFL. He allowed a big play on 14.8 per cent of targets, which was the fourth-best rate among deep safeties.

In the slot, he surrendered only 6.15 burn yards per target and a big play on two of his 21 targets. Though Curl was not asked to do as much in coverage when he played closer to the line of scrimmage, he influenced the game with his play against the run. His run disruption rate of 10.0 per cent from the inside linebacker spot was equal to that of Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Defensive centrepieces are rarely found in the seventh round, but the Commanders have clearly unearthed one who has the multiplicity to rival defenders of a much higher profile.

Elijah Moore - New York Jets

If former 49ers defensive coordinator and now Jets head coach Robert Saleh is hoping to develop his version of Deebo Samuel, then Moore may be his best candidate.

Moore thrived playing as both an outside receiver and in the slot in his rookie season after being picked in the second round last year. He was tied for 16th in burn yards per route (3.0) among receivers with at least 50 targets. Moore also finished 16th in that group in big-play rate, delivering a burn or a burn for a touchdown on 35.7 per cent of targets.

Though the explosive plays (25.7 per cent) dropped off when he was in the slot, Moore excelled at maximizing his separation as an inside receiver, finishing tied for 10th (min. 25 slot targets) with 3.1 burn yards per route.

Moore carried the ball only five times as a rookie, but he averaged over 10 yards per attempt, with one of those attempts going for a touchdown. Though it is an extremely small sample size, that's the kind of efficiency to suggest he should be given increased opportunities on designed touches out of the backfield in his second season.

Asking Moore to replicate Samuel would be ambitious. However, if he can succeed in a more varied role while continuing to produce from several receiver spots, it would be a substantial boost to Zach Wilson's hopes of a second-year leap.

Robert Lewandowski's time at Bayern Munich has come to an end.

Barcelona have struck a deal in principle with the Bundesliga champions to sign the star forward, who expressed his desire to leave Munich at the end of last season.

Lewandowski scored 50 goals across all competitions in the 2021-22 campaign, continuing his remarkable form across his eight-year spell in Bavaria.

Before his move to Bayern in 2014, Lewandowski was brilliant for Borussia Dortmund, and he leaves Germany as one of the Bundesliga's greatest performers, having scored 344 goals and contributing 57 assists.

Here are the 33-year-old's best figures and records from his stint in Germany's top tier.
 

Bossing the Bundesliga

312 - Lewandowski has scored 312 Bundesliga goals, the second most scored by any player in the history of the competition behind the great Gerd Muller's tally of 365.

128 - Of those 312 goals, 128 have come on the road, which is the most by any Bundesliga player.

 

7 - Lewandowski finished as the Bundesliga's top scorer in seven different seasons, equalling the record set by Bayern legend Muller.

41 - He also broke Muller's long-standing record of scoring 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season when he netted 41 in the 2020-21 campaign.

5 - The Poland forward has finished as the league's top scorer in the last five seasons, with no other player managing such a long streak in the competition's history.
 

A king in Europe

86 - Lewandowski has scored 86 Champions League goals, with only Cristiano Ronaldo (140) and Lionel Messi (125) having scored more, while his tally is matched by Real Madrid star Karim Benzema.

106 -Yet no other player has needed fewer Champions League appearances to reach 86 goals (Lewandowski 106, Messi 107, Ronaldo 121, Benzema 141).

 

23 - In the 2021-22 season, Lewandowski scored three goals within the first 23 minutes against RB Salzburg in the last 16. That is the quickest hat-trick in Champions League history.

5 - Lewandowski has scored three or more goals in a Champions League game on five occasions, with only Ronaldo and Messi (both eight) doing so more times.

1 - He is the only player to score four goals in a Champions League semi-final tie, having done so for Dortmund against Madrid in 2013.

Erik ten Hag is edging closer to getting his man, or so it seems.

While Tyrell Malacia signed last week and deals for Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez seem close to going through, it is clear that Manchester United's priority transfer target has been Frenkie de Jong.

A star of Ten Hag's Ajax team, De Jong was tipped to help take Barcelona's midfield into the post-Xavi and Andres Iniesta era when he switched Amsterdam for Catalonia in 2019.

Yet, three years on, United have reportedly agreed a fee in the region of £63million (€75m) with Barcelona for the Netherlands international, with a further £8.5m (€10m) in add-ons also possible.

There is one small matter that needs to be resolved, though: De Jong needs convincing to make the switch from Barcelona to Manchester.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta told reporters on July 2 that De Jong had indicated he wished to stay at the club, but then suggested that if the Dutchman were to get his wish, he would have to take a wage cut.

That Laporta believes he would have to negotiate a salary decrease with a player who signed a lucrative contract only three years ago illustrates where Barca have gone wrong, and just why it is hard to fairly judge De Jong's time at Camp Nou, in which he has worked under four coaches – Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setien, Ronald Koeman and Xavi.

The latter was keen to keep hold of the midfielder, but with Barca having signed Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen on free transfers and agreed a deal with Leeds United for Raphinha – not to mention handing Ousmane Dembele a new deal – a big sale is apparently required.

While there is still potential for this deal to fall through, should De Jong stick to his guns, it does seem increasingly likely he will be lining up at Old Trafford next season. So, just what will he bring that United need?

Has he lived up to the hype?

De Jong came into a Barca team that had slumped to a humbling Champions League semi-final defeat to Liverpool and were reeling from that implosion.

Valverde's team let a 3-0 aggregate lead slip in that tie, and truly the coach never recovered. Yet Barca splashed out an initial €75m to add stardust to their midfield and back the coach.

On paper, De Jong is the ideal Barca player, the embodiment of total football; an elegant runner, skilful in possession and a brilliant passer, while he is versatile enough to play in any midfield role or even in the centre of defence.

Over the course of his three seasons at Camp Nou, only Sergio Busquets (144) has made more appearances than his 140, so fitting De Jong into the side has not been an issue, while his creativity has certainly come to the fore, with his 149 chances created ranking behind just Lionel Messi (233) and Jordi Alba (207).

Last season, he created 40 chances in 32 LaLiga games.

 

He ranks fifth for assists (15) in the last three seasons, though it should be noted that both Messi and Antoine Griezmann, who are ahead of him in that metric, left the club in 2021.

De Jong's 10,158 touches puts him third at Barca for the same period, with his 645 duels won likewise third, with only Messi (800) and Busquets (814) winning more.

Under Ten Hag, De Jong might well be employed as a deep-lying playmaker as he was often utilised for Ajax. At Barca, Busquets has remained the midfield metronome, topping the charts for passes attempted (10,799) and completed (9,676), though De Jong does boast a better accuracy than the Blaugrana stalwart (91.8 to 89.6).

But for all his quality, De Jong has been unable to transform Barca's midfield, with Pedri and Gavi the new kids on the block. It is that duo that have seemingly grasped the initiative more, with Busquets still trusted by his former team-mate Xavi.

A clear improvement...

De Jong might not have been able to become the superstar many forecast at Barca, but at 25, he has plenty in the tank and, in truth, strolls into United's midfield.

It has been an area of weakness for several seasons, despite the huge investment in Paul Pogba, Fred and Bruno Fernandes.

While Fernandes has, of course, proved a huge success in England, Pogba only managed flashes of brilliance across his six-year second spell at Old Trafford and has now left on a free, while neither Fred nor Scott McTominay seem natural fits for Ten Hag's possession-based, fluid system.

De Jong fits that bill with aplomb and is a huge step-up on what United have in that area.

With Eriksen's impending arrival set to supplement Fernandes as a creator, De Jong could take up the mantle as United's midfield general from a deeper position, whether playing in front of the defence in a 4-3-3, or as part of a double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1 shape, as was employed in this week's 4-0 friendly win over Liverpool.

 

Last season alone, De Jong completed more passes – 2,160 – than any United midfielder, with only Fernandes (1,849) getting close. He also proved consistently available, playing 47 times, 20 more than Pogba, who he is effectively replacing.

Perhaps surprisingly, only Fred (372) and Fernandes (841), of United midfielders, lost possession more times, excluding hoofs, than De Jong (359) last term.

However, De Jong is adept at winning the ball back, having made 226 recoveries, and the fact he did lose possession so much appears to be largely due to him attempting so many more passes than his United counterparts.

De Jong's dribbling ability adds another dimension to United's attack, with his prowess at carrying the ball upfield a useful tool while in transition. His dribble success rate of 77.4 per cent is better than any of United's regular midfielders from last season, bar Matic, who only attempted 27 dribbles. Opta data shows De Jong made 279 progressive ball carries in LaLiga last season. In comparison, Fred managed 91 in the Premier League, with McTominay mustering 182 and Pogba tallying 125.

 

It is no surprise, then, that Ten Hag sees De Jong as a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Getting this deal done and over the line would be a statement of intent, and should provide an ideal platform for United to be shaped in their new manager's image.

Even if doubts remain further up the field, with uncertainty surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo's future, United's midfield has been in need of a major revamp – De Jong provides just that.

Transfers between the Premier League's so-called 'big six' have become something of a rarity in recent years, but the trend has re-emerged with Raheem Sterling's switch to Chelsea.

The Blues confirmed on Wednesday that Sterling has moved to Stamford Bridge on a five-year contract, with Manchester City accepting a reported £45million offer for the England international.

He made at least 46 appearances in each of his seven seasons at City, yet it was claimed Pep Guardiola was unable to provide assurances over his playing time next term.

That, apparently, is what led to Sterling seeking an exit, and Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea appear a fine fit stylistically.

With that in mind, it's a deal that will perplex many, given how important Sterling has been for City over the course of his stay in Manchester.

On top of that, City appear to be strengthening a team who would regard themselves direct rivals of the Premier League champions.

Sterling hasn't depreciated this significantly since Brexit, with City taking a sizeable risk wilfully offloading such a player.

A transformed talent

It would be fair to suggest Sterling has been a little inconsistent over the past two years, with his respective goals hauls of 14 and 17 across all competitions a bit of a drop-off.

Yet both of those are respectable figures and only serve to highlight just how good Sterling – very much approaching his peak at 27 years old – can be in the right context.

After modest returns in his first two years at the club, Sterling hit 20-plus goals in three successive campaigns, including 31 in 52 games in the 2019-20 season.

 

With Chelsea allowing Romelu Lukaku to return to Inter and the underwhelming Timo Werner seemingly available for transfer, the Blues are crying out for a dependable source of goals. Sterling could be that player.

While Guardiola's management style may be what's made Sterling look for pastures new, it was also the Catalan's coaching that helped transform Sterling into the player he is now.

As mentioned, Sterling was nowhere near as decisive at Liverpool or in his first two years at City as he has been over the past five years. Of course, part of that can be explained simply by development and progression. After all, he was 20 when he left the Reds.

 

But Guardiola's coaching, and how he has utilised Sterling, shouldn't be glossed over. Since he became City coach in 2016, Sterling has scored 27 Premier League goals from inside the six-yard box, which is five more than anyone else (Harry Kane, 22).

He knows how to be in the right place at the right time, and that requires supreme intelligence.

No one-trick pony

The fact Sterling's been able to make himself such a goalmouth threat despite not being regarded as an out-and-out striker is impressive, and it speaks to his well-roundedness as an attacker.

Under Guardiola, he's essentially averaged a goal every other game (one every 179 minutes) in the Premier League, with his haul of 85 bettered by only five players since the start of the 2016-17 season.

 

But his creativity shouldn't be ignored. Over the same period, he has laid on 296 chances for team-mates. That sees him ranked 10th overall in the Premier League.

Additionally, only three players have a better expected assists (xA) record than Sterling (34) since August 2017 (when Opta started collecting the data), and two of those are regular set-piece takers.

Sterling's strengths don't begin and end there, though. 

He's quick, strong despite his size, a leader and clearly very experienced. On his last Premier League appearance for City, he was aged 27 years and 165 days – only four players have had more Premier League goal involvements at that age than Sterling.

 

Just 11 players in Premier League history have reached 200 goal involvements, and he's already only 35 off that. In fact, he's potentially just one very good season from reaching the milestone.

Of course, it shouldn't be just blindly accepted that Sterling will be an incredible signing for Chelsea. They've had their fair share of expensive flops over the years, with Lukaku the most recent – few expected him to have such a minimal impact.

But Sterling's tremendous arsenal of attributes may give him greater scope to be influential. Maybe he won't create as much, but he could still be a primary goal threat, and he also appears to be a good fit for the kind of high-tempo football Tuchel likes to play. 

The over-riding feeling is that Sterling's sale suggests a degree of underappreciation for him, particularly given City aren't selling him for anything more than they paid seven years ago.

Chelsea, on the other hand, appear to be getting a bargain.

Novak Djokovic had predicted "fireworks" in Sunday's Wimbledon final with Nick Kyrgios, tennis' self-proclaimed bad boy and as combustible a sports star as they come.

In some regards that proved true, with Kyrgios providing those in attendance and watching at home with a run-through of his greatest hits.

There was plenty of ranting from start to finish – some perhaps going too far – with the odd interaction with the crowd and a broken racquet or two thrown in for good measure.

In between all that, Australia's first finalist here since Mark Philippoussis in 2003 produced some remarkable shots, an underarm serve and brilliantly executed tweener included.

Love him or hate him, this was Kyrgios at his ill-tempered best, and he went a long way to showing there is more to him than just a petulant twentysomething by taking the first set.

At that point, Kyrgios had reeled off five sets in a row across three meetings with his opponent without dropping one. But this is Djokovic, on Centre Court, in a grand slam final.

 And so at the end of a three-hour battle, it was Djokovic who prevailed 4-6 6-3 6-4 7-6 (7-3) to make it 21 major titles, pulling him back to within one of Rafael Nadal's record.

It was the enforced withdrawal of Nadal that gave Kyrgios his route into the biggest match of his career, and thus denied the millions viewing around the world their dream final.

While witnessing tennis' two greatest ever players face off once more would have made for quite the spectacle, this was a Championship clash that provided subplots galore.

One of the themes of this year's tournament has been Djokovic's uncharacteristically slow starts, almost teasing opponents into thinking they had his number before striking back.

He trailed Jannik Sinner and Cameron Norrie in the past two rounds and so that proved again versus Kyrgios, who with those slow starts in mind let Djokovic serve first.

That appeared to be a masterstroke when Djokovic double-faulted first up, yet the Serbian recovered – as he so often does – to hold and settle into the match.

But Kyrgios went on to earn the only break of the first set in the fifth game and let out a huge roar of "Let's go!". If anything, that only worked to fire up his opponent even more.

This was hardly unchartered territory for Djokovic, who also lost the opener in last year's final against Matteo Berrettini before battling to victory in four sets.

The second set proved far more comfortable for the 35-year-old, promoting Kyrgios to take a different approach as he let loose at the umpire. It would not be the last time.

If Kyrgios stuck to his half of the bargain by being his usual self, Djokovic did likewise by focusing solely on his tennis and taking a well-contested third set with a solitary break.

As the lowest-ranked finalist in a grand slam final since Marcos Baghdatis (50) at the Australian Open in 2006, world number 40 Kyrgios surely knew his number was up.

And so it proved as for the 13th time in 15 grand slam matches when losing the opening set, it was Djokovic left celebrating as he claimed a seventh Wimbledon crown.

 This latest comeback also made Djokovic the first player since Ted Schroeder in 1949 to win the title after dropping the first set in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.

It will almost certainly not be the four-in-a-row champion's final title, either, though it remains to be seen if Kyrgios will scale these heights again any time soon – if at all.

On this occasion, Djokovic simply proved a step too far as Kyrgios' fireworks fizzled out at the climax of a fascinating Wimbledon campaign.

Perhaps taking a page out of legendary Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson's playbook, it is out with the old at Manchester City and in with the new in what has been a busy transfer window to date.

On the back of winning a fourth Premier League title in five seasons, City have waved goodbye to long-serving and reliable midfielder Fernandinho, while sanctioning the exits of forwards Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling – the latter's move to Chelsea expected to go through in the coming days.

It is undoubtedly a risk from City's perspective, not least with Jesus and Sterling joining fellow big-six clubs Arsenal and Chelsea respectively, but one the reigning English champions feel is worth taking as they freshen up their side.

Plenty of focus will undoubtedly be on new arrivals Erling Haaland, Julian Alvarez and Kalvin Phillips (sorry, Stefan Ortega), but Pep Guardiola will also need other squad members to step up in City's quest for more major honours.

That is a category Jack Grealish, now into his second season at the Etihad Stadium following last year's British record £100million transfer, fits into on the back of a rather mixed first 12 months or so in Manchester.

Unusually for such a big-money transfer, and for a player moving between clubs in the same league, Grealish was afforded a settling in period at City and occasionally went under the radar – right up until May's title celebrations, that is!

But with Sterling no longer around, the former Aston Villa star must now deliver if Guardiola's gamble is to pay off. Here, Stats Perform looks at exactly what Grealish offers to City, and the areas he can perhaps still improve.


GREALISH OVERLOOKED

Allowing Sterling to leave would not have been an easy decision for City, even if he did become more of a peripheral figure in his final 18 months or so at the club – coinciding with a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United in March 2021.

The versatile forward had started 70 per cent of City's games in all competitions between his debut and that loss to United, compared to 53 per cent of the Citizens' subsequent 77 matches.

He was named among the substitutes in both legs of the thrilling Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, as well as the final-day showdown with Villa in the Premier League.

But rather tellingly, it was Sterling who Guardiola turned to from the bench in the first leg against Madrid, with Grealish playing a watching brief throughout, as was the case in that game against Villa when City were chasing three goals.

Put simply, Guardiola felt he had options better than Grealish when in need of goals. But with wide forwards Sterling and Jesus gone, that surely cannot be the case this season – unless, of course, the plan is to rely on Haaland up top.

 

THE STATS DON'T LIE

Grealish played 39 times for City in all competitions in his first season at the Etihad, 31 of those being starts, ranking him level with Riyad Mahrez (31 starts) and behind Sterling (32) and Phil Foden (36) in a similar area of the pitch. Jesus, incidentally, started just 28 games for City in 2021-22.

While that is a pretty telling statistic in its own right, Grealish's – let's face it – hugely underwhelming direct-goals involvement of just 10 in a high-scoring City side is what garnered the most attention when picking apart his first year under Guardiola.

Eight other City players directly contributed to more goals in all competitions last season, with Sterling registering 15 more combined goals and assists than Grealish. Mahrez, now well suited to playing in Guardiola's complex system, led the way with 33.

Grealish himself admitted midway through last season that he needed to play a bigger part in front of goal, but felt the statistics were not truly reflecting his performances in the final third.

"I think [stats] are important because at the end of the day that is what people look at such as how many goal involvements us attackers have. Especially when you come to a club with the price tag that I did," he said.

"If you don't get some [goals and assists] for a few games, everyone starts to talk. I think they are important but there will be times where you're playing well and the goals and assists just aren't coming. That's what I have felt recently. 

"In the Watford game the other day I could have scored about four or five and I came off the pitch with nothing. Even the Leeds game, we scored seven goals as well and I only got one."

In that Watford game mentioned by Grealish, the England international finished with an expected goals (xG) value of 0.83 in his 68 minutes on the pitch but could not find the net from any of his five efforts, three of which were on target. 

That compares to two goals from three shots for midfield team-mate Bernardo Silva from an xG of 0.28, with Sterling scoring City's other goal in that 3-1 Premier League win at Vicarage Road.


... OR DO THEY

That Watford game was very much a microcosm of Grealish's time at City to date, with the underlying figures backing up his previous point about his efforts perhaps not paying off. 

His four assists in 2021-22, for example, came from an expected assists (xA) return of 7.08 – that differential of 3.08 being the highest of any City player. Effectively, had his team-mates put away certain chances, Grealish's season would have had a slightly more positive spin.

Indeed, the 78 chances created by the 26-year-old last season was bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne (129) among City players in all competitions, though just 10 of those were defined as 'big chances' by Opta, which is the same number as central defender Aymeric Laporte.

This is by no means to say Grealish's shortcomings last season were down to those around him. If he is to truly thrive under Guardiola, though, the shackles will surely have to be released if the Grealish that lit up the Premier League with Villa is to be seen again.

The Grealish that plays with freedom and flair – the reason Guardiola pushed hard for the club to pay a nine-figure sum for the transfer, after all – was there to see for England in their recent Nations League games.

He made a huge impact down the left-hand side from the bench with England trailing against Germany, managing six touches in the opposition box despite playing just 18 minutes, which was double that of any England player other than Harry Kane (seven).

Grealish then played a part in the incident that led to England being awarded a penalty in which Kane converted to snatch a 1-1 draw. That is very much the difference-making cameo Guardiola did not see enough of last time out.

The good news for Grealish is that he may be afforded more opportunities to get at opponents now that City have a target man in Haaland to aim for. The slick passing moves will not be done away with, as such, but Haaland is completely different in stature to any player City had up top last season.

And after a whole year of working under Guardiola, including a first pre-season, Grealish will now be far more accustomed to the demands expected of him if he is to become a regular in the starting line-up.

"I am just trying to keep improving all of the time and I know for a fact that the longer I am here the more I will improve," he added in that interview seven months ago.

With the old guard gone, the time has now arrived for Grealish to prove he has what it takes to thrive under Guardiola.

Whatever data Mark Horton is supplying his PGA Tour clients these days, it seems to be paying off.

The English statistician counts both Sam Burns and Billy Horschel among those coming to him for guidance in their golf games. And each registered Tour wins in consecutive weeks last month, as Burns captured the Charles Schwab Challenge before Horschel cruised to victory at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday.

"Hortsy (Horton) is unbelievable," Horschel said after his win. "He's been on my team since 2014. First year he comes on the team we win the FedExCup. He's very English and he's very blunt, and we had a conversation before he joined my team about my record on the PGA Tour and things I didn't do well.

"My short game wasn't very good and I had stone hands. And this week I showed him finally that I have a short game that can live up to the golf course and save me at times."

Horschel's game at the Memorial wasn't just good, it was unprecedented. His +13.58 Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green was the most at an event in his PGA Tour career and best since the 2018 Wyndham Championship (+10.74, tied for 11th). It broke his long-time career record of +13.07, set a decade ago at the 2012 Sanderson Farms Championship.

He was the fourth Memorial winner since 2003 to rank first in both Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green as well as Greens in Regulation (53), joining Patrick Cantlay (2021), Jason Dufner (2017) and Tiger Woods (2012). He also finished the week ranked second in Proximity to the Hole, his third time on Tour ranking in the top-two and more than four feet closer than his previous average in eight previous starts at the Memorial.

Credit to Horschel for his performance. And in the meantime, Horton will keep crunching the numbers.

"He just tells me where I need to be on holes, where guys are making bogeys, where the birdies are coming from, the perfect way for me to plot my way around the golf course," Horschel explained. "That's what I love to do. I love to put my ball here, put the ball there. And he backs me up with that data that's he's been giving me for the last eight years."

SCHAUFFELE FINALLY CONVERTS

Xander Schauffele knew the record. The numbers don't lie.

0-4 lifetime. Oh for four. Goose egg.

That was Schauffele's career record on the PGA Tour when holding a 54-hole lead or co-lead. The now six-time Tour winner was still waiting to successfully convert a third-round position atop the leaderboard into a victory, and the Travelers Championship was one more opportunity to do it.

"In the past when I had a 54-hole lead or close to the lead, my Sundays felt really fast," he said. "And I'd be sitting back in the hotel or at a house on Sunday [afterward] thinking, 'What happened today?'"

This time, he said, Schauffele wanted to stay in the present and focus on the task at hand, which was each and every shot. They would all be critical to stave off Cantlay, who trailed him by only a stroke entering the final round, with more players not far behind.

"I told [my caddie] to hold me accountable on the first hole walking up there," Schauffele said. "And he did a really great job, and both of us were pretty much dialled in from the first hole."

That they were. Schauffele finished the week hitting 63 greens in regulation, leading the field and tying his most hit during an event on Tour in his career. He also hit 63 earlier this season at the WM Phoenix Open, where he tied for third, and hit 60 twice at both the 2020 Sentry Tournament of Championship (T2) and CIMB Classic (T3).

That precision helped Schauffele finish with a Strokes Gained: Total of +16.39, the most at an event in his career. His previous best total was +15.31, set in 2020 at The CJ CUP.

Schauffele trailed Sahith Theegala by one stroke as he approached the last, but the tournament leader closed with a double-bogey before Schauffele hit his approach to 3 feet, setting up the winning birdie. It marked his first individual PGA Tour title since the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions.

"It's been a year where my stats have been very solid, just haven't really put in four good rounds of golf," Schauffele said afterward. "I think subconsciously or without myself even really knowing I was getting a little impatient. And this week I was just trying to be self-aware as possible to just stay as patient as possible. I had to just realise that I put the work in and if I can just sort of do what I've been doing and just focus a little bit more throughout the day that it will pay off in a big way, and fortunately it did."

MCILROY DIALS IT IN

When Rory McIlroy looked ahead to the final-round forecast at the RBC Canadian Open, a simple glance at the wind direction told him all he’d need to know about his chances for victory.

"Seeing that southerly wind again, I knew I needed to go out and shoot 5-or-6-under par to have a chance to win," he said.

Simple enough. McIlroy posted an eight-under 62 to edge Tony Finau by two strokes for his 21st PGA Tour victory.

"You needed to keep your foot down, you needed to keep your foot on the pedal," McIlroy said of his mindset. "I got off to a faster start today than I have done the previous few days."

McIlroy has feasted in final rounds this year, joining Finau as one of only two players on Tour with four final rounds of six-under or better this year. Prior to his eight-under 62 in Canada, he also posted a pair of six-under 66s at The Players Championship and The CJ CUP to go along with an epic eight-under 64 at The Masters.

It marked his third final round of 62 or better en route to a PGA Tour win, something no other winner has done more than once since 1983. He also shot a final-round 61 to win the 2019 RBC Canadian Open, as well as a 62 at the Wells Fargo Championship.

The Northern Irishman was buoyed by an incredible approach shot performance, as he averaged just over 3 feet to the hole from 100 to 125 yards out, 14 feet closer than the field average in the final round.

Maybe this time football really is 'coming home'.

Hosts England are widely considered among the favourites to win Euro 2022 as Sarina Wiegman leads the Lionesses onto the big stage, and they can be considered marginal front-runners for a wide-open tournament.

That conclusion is based on modelling from Stats Perform's Artificial Intelligence team, using Opta's data reserves to quantify each team's chances of winning the entire tournament.

Every match has been run through the Stats Perform Women's Euro prediction model to calculate the estimated probability of the outcome (win, draw or loss). This uses odds from betting markets and Stats Perform team rankings, which are based on historical and recent performances.

The model takes into consideration the strength of each team's opponents as well as the difficulty of their respective paths to the final, plus the make-up of the groups and any relevant seedings heading into the knockouts.

The rest of the tournament is then simulated thousands of times and analysed, providing the probability of each team progressing round by round and ultimately lifting the trophy at Wembley on July 31.

Spain have been widely portrayed as favourites, but La Roja might find it hard going in England. Here is a run-down of the AI results, and they might shock you.
 

MOST LIKELY CHAMPIONS

1. England (19.3 per cent)

Runners-up in 1984 and 2009, perhaps England's second European finals on home soil could bring about a triumph the Lionesses have longed to achieve.

They have such immense strength in their forward ranks that Ellen White, joint top scorer at the 2019 World Cup, is not assured of her place in the team. The likes of Ella Toone, Beth Mead and Alessia Russo could push White for the starting spot as striker, with three attackers set to feature in behind, as manager Wiegman looks to blow away the opposition.

England are given an 81.9 per cent chance of coming through the group stage to reach the quarter-finals, a 54.1 per cent shot at getting through to the semi-finals, and a 31.1 per cent hope of making it through to the Wembley trophy match. Their 19.3 per cent chance of carrying off the trophy means it is hardly a given that England will finish bathed in glory, and that is because the opposition is so strong.

2. France (18.5 per cent)

Les Bleues left Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer out of their squad, meaning two of their recognised stars will be conspicuously absent from Corinne Diacre's team.

Stats Perform's women's football Power Rankings puts France second on the global list, behind only the United States, but coach Diacre is dicing with danger by omitting proven performers. Should things go wrong, fingers will likely be pointing her way.

However, at the back France have the stalwart Wendie Renard skippering the side, while in attack the Paris Saint-Germain striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto should make a big impact on her first major senior tournament. They possess quality, notwithstanding the notable absentees.

France have Italy, Belgium and Iceland as Group D rivals and are given a 74.8 per cent chance of advancing and are rated 49.1 per cent shots to make in into the semi-finals.

3. Sweden (14.6 per cent)

FIFA ranks Sweden second in its own rankings, and the Scandinavians were only denied Olympic gold in Tokyo last year after a penalty shoot-out loss to Canada in the final.

They might lack superstar names, but the likes of Barcelona's Fridolina Rolfo, Milan's Kosovare Asllani and Arsenal's Stina Blackstenius are players to keep an eye on.

The Swedes are given an 84.2 per cent chance of reaching the quarter-finals – the highest percentage of all teams – as they head into a group that also features defending champions the Netherlands along with Switzerland and Portugal.

4. Germany (11.5 per cent)

The eight-time winners cannot be ruled out, but they are no longer the team that everyone fears. Starting off in the same pool as Spain complicates their task considerably, with Euro 2017 runners-up Denmark also in Group C, along with Finland.

Given that line-up, Germany are given a 72.8 per cent shot at finishing in the top two and reaching the quarter-finals, plus a 43.2 per cent chance of making the last four and  a 22.0 per cent prospect of getting through to the final.

5. Spain (8.8 per cent)

Some might scoff at Spain being given such a low rating, but they face the same problem as Germany initially, with no guarantee of escaping Group C.

Jorge Vilda's Spain are built on formidable foundations, with players from Barcelona and Real Madrid dominating their squad. Barcelona won all 30 of their domestic league games last year, but their players were knocked out of stride by defeat to Lyon in the Champions League final.

Having the likes of 100-cap playmaker Alexia Putellas in their ranks makes Spain an undoubted threat. However, she has suffered an injury on the eve of the tournament, and Spain have yet to triumph on the big-tournament stage. Like Spain's men before they found a winning formula, the women's football can be a joy to watch, but their efficiency in front of goal can be lacking.

They have reached quarter-finals at the last two editions of the Euros, and are rated as 71.6 per cent likely to at least go that far this time around. Will they reach a final first? The AI analysis gives them just a 19.0 per cent chance of featuring in the Wembley showpiece.

6. Netherlands 7.2 per cent

Champions last time out when they hosted, the Dutch will believe they can defend their title, and the team's opener against Sweden will tell us a lot about their potential.

Englishman Mark Parsons has stepped in to replace Euro 2017-winning boss Wiegman, inheriting a group containing the likes of Vivianne Miedema, Lieke Martens and Danielle van de Donk, who are all potential stars of the tournament.

This time the Netherlands are given only a 64.6 per cent chance of advancing to the quarters, and a 15.8 per cent hope of reaching another final. A 5-1 pasting by England in a pre-finals friendly has cast doubt on whether they can be the same force as five years ago. If they fail to top Group C, a likely quarter-final with France awaits.

TITLE CHANCES OF THE REST (all figures are percentages): Belgium 4.5, Italy 2.9, Iceland 2.8, Austria 2.6, Norway 2.3, Switzerland 2.3, Denmark 1.1, Finland 0.6, Portugal 0.6, Northern Ireland 0.3

Manchester United certainly can't be accused of not supporting their new manager, Erik ten Hag, given the players they're going for in the transfer market.

Granted, that's more about how United are primarily being linked with players Ten Hag knows or has previously coached rather than them targeting a host of renowned superstars.

Whether that suggests a certain trust in Ten Hag or if it comes down to a lack of belief in the club's own scouting department is a discussion for another time, but clearly Ten Hag is being allowed to build a team in his image, and that's what many fans will have hoped for.

The first one in through the door is Tyrell Malacia, who joins from Eredivisie side Feyenoord on a four-year   contract with an option for a further season.

Netherlands international Malacia had apparently been close to joining Lyon until United came in at the last minute, but once the Red Devils' interest became apparent, there was only likely to be one destination: Old Trafford.

But what sort of player are United getting? Stats Perform takes a look…

Exit looming for Telles?

When considering the areas United needed to strengthen ahead of the new season, left-back might not have been highlighted as a major cause for concern, therefore some are likely to feel Malacia's signing isn't necessary.

But most would agree Luke Shaw endured a generally poor season, and his deputy – Alex Telles – seemingly wasn't good enough to fully dislodge the England international. Then you have Brandon Williams, who has returned from a loan spell at Norwich City but will in all likelihood be sold.

One would assume Malacia's arrival will lead to another sale at left-back as well, and that'll presumably be Telles rather than Shaw, who will be expected to get back to the level he showed in the 2020-21 season.

Shaw has responded well to competition before. In fact, his excellent 2020-21 campaign coincided with United's signing of Telles, but perhaps he took his foot off the pedal once he realised the Brazilian wasn't likely to be a long-term threat to his place.

Malacia could be.

 

At 22, Malacia is youthful and boasts a skillset that may make him a greater understudy – and challenger – to Shaw than Telles.

Already a Netherlands international, Malacia is quick, comfortable on the ball and had an impressive output in attack last season. Telles, on the other hand, isn't especially fast and his final-third threat relies on crosses from deep.

Full-backs performed an important function for Ten Hag's Ajax. Their underlapping runs make them potential threats in the box, while those at his disposal in Amsterdam possessed excellent technical abilities, helping the team to maintain control of possession even out wide, a little like at Manchester City.

Such a role certainly shouldn't faze Malacia considering his pace and technique.
 

A considered threat

Malacia's technical ability and speed are probably his two most obvious attributes, though neither are especially easy to prove with numbers.

Of course, it's difficult to accurately – and fairly – compare players across two hugely different competitions just using stats, but you can at least get an idea of what a player offers.

Malacia's 1.1 open-play chances created every 90 minutes in the Eredivisie last season was the 10th highest among defenders (minimum of 1,000 minutes played). That was the same as Shaw's, though the latter was obviously playing in a league generally regarded to be a higher level.

 

Despite that frequency not being especially remarkable, Malacia did lay on four assists, and his 6.0 expected assists (xA) was bettered by only four Eredivisie defenders.

So although he wasn't necessarily creating a huge amount of opportunities, those he did craft had an average xA value of 0.16 – of the defenders with at least 18 key passes, only Daley Blind (0.27), Noussair Mazraoui (0.19) and Yukinari Sugawara (0.17) created better chances on average.

Similarly, Malacia's xA output on a per-90-minute basis of 0.19 was higher than that of Shaw (0.14) and Telles (0.11).

Both of the xA averages mentioned for Malacia highlight – and can be partly explained by – how he attacks. He recorded 2.7 touches in the opposition's box every 90 minutes last term (fifth among Eredivisie defenders), whereas Shaw (1.1) and Telles (1.0) were far less willing to get into that area.

As such, of his 5.0 passes into the box each game, only 3.0 were crosses. Those respective figures for Shaw (5.9/5.7) and Telles (7.6/7.3) show a far greater reliance on hopeful crosses.

 

Again, specific coaching instructions may explain the figures of Shaw and Telles, so the data isn't suggesting any one is better than the others, but it's still easy to see why Ten Hag might feel Malacia is a good fit as one of his underlapping full-backs.

Malacia also tallied more tackle attempts (2.7), tackles won (1.8) and duels (11.0) compared to Shaw (1.1, 0.7 and 8.2) and Telles (2.4, 1.3 and 9.8).

As before, these don't necessarily mean he's a better defender because the context of the two leagues and the respective teams' playing styles make it difficult to draw such conclusions, but Malacia's figures do at least point to a certain level of tenacity off the ball.

Regardless of the numbers, it seems clear United are taking a bit of a gamble with Malacia. Although obviously talented, he is young, inexperienced and joining a team that cannot claim to have much stability.

Nothing about United over the past decade has suggested it's a club that successfully nurtures young players anymore. Even when you look at the success stories such as Marcus Rashford, he's not appeared happy for a while.

The fact Malacia has seemingly been signed upon the request of his manager – rather than a glorified accountant on the board – is undoubtedly a tick in the pros column, but only time will tell if that trust in Ten Hag is well-placed.

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