Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra insisted his team still have the right spirit and a huge "sense of urgency" after suffering a fifth straight loss, going down 109-105 to the Los Angeles Clippers.

In an NBA first for the shot-clock era, the Clippers won a game despite being outscored by 14+ points in the first and fourth quarters, according to Stats Perform data. 

The Heat fell to 6-12 for the season having been beaten by a Clippers team playing without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley. 

Spoelstra was also without key players; Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala were among seven who were unavailable. 

The Clippers trailed by 18 early, but then turned the tables and built a lead as high as 19 by the time the third quarter ended.

However, the Heat won the fourth quarter by 15 points and were within three before ultimately losing out in a frantic finale. 

The struggles this season are a stark contrast to last, when they impressively made the NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble. 

"When it went good, it was because their hearts are in the right place for sure," said Spoelstra. 

"We are just grinding and trying to figure out how to get over the hump and try and give ourselves our best chance of winning.  

"It is just a matter of consistency to be able to do that throughout the course of the game.  

"Our group has a great spirit and a big-time sense of urgency. It is not a matter of that, it is a matter of finding a way to be consistent throughout. 

"There are a lot of moving parts. That makes it unique. You can’t make an excuse for it. You have to continue to grind, to learn and compete for each other. We just need to be more consistent with it."

Tyler Herro had 19 points as he returned after missing seven games with neck spasms, with Spoelstra hoping more players will follow soon. 

He added:  "We will be getting guys back soon enough. You get Tyler back and there is just a boost to it and that is encouraging.  

"Everyone in the locker room really wants to play better and in a perfect world we want to be in a better place than we are right now and we are not.  

"We just have to continue to grind." 

Nicolas Batum scored 18 points for the Clippers, one of their six players to reach double figures. Tyronn Lue's team improved to 14-5 on the season and have won eight of their last nine games.

Manchester City are threatening to run away from the rest of the Premier League and their success has been in a large part down to the previously unsung Ilkay Gundogan.

As they prepare to face Sheffield United, who surprisingly may be relishing a second trip to Manchester in four days, we look at who else is making City tick.

A trio of Pep Guardiola's players feature among our Opta-fuelled fantasy picks, along with high performers from Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham and Crystal Palace.

EDOUARD MENDY

One thing is for certain: Chelsea's new boss Thomas Tuchel will know all about Mendy. Tuchel's old Paris Saint-Germain side faced Mendy twice in Ligue 1 during the goalkeeper's Reims days, scoring four the first time but just once second time around in a shock defeat. Last season saw Mendy help Rennes finish third in the French top flight.

The goalkeeper conceded just three times in his first eight Premier League games for Chelsea but has shipped 11 in eight matches since that bright start.

Clean sheets in two of his past three league games, however, suggest Mendy and the Chelsea defence are getting their act together.

Ahead of a home clash with Burnley, only one goalkeeper - City's Ederson (61 per cent) - has kept a higher share of clean sheets in the Premier League this season than Tuchel's new number one, with Mendy avoiding conceding in eight of his 16 appearances.

JOAO CANCELO

Move over Andy Robertson, there's a new defensive assist king in town. City's Cancelo has created more chances from open play than any defender in the Premier League this season after setting up 30 opportunities.

Admittedly, Robertson is second on that list after making 27 chances for Liverpool team-mates, but Cancelo has played four fewer games than the Scot.

With City facing the Blades at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, the flying full-back will doubtless be eyeing up more forward missions.

RUBEN DIAS

If City are to succeed where neighbours Manchester United failed, by keeping out the Blades, then Dias may have a big role to play.

The Portuguese centre-back has achieved more clean sheets than any other Premier League defender this season, playing in 10 games where City have had shutouts.

He is yet to score but has an xG value of 1.4, suggesting he is getting into positions from where he might soon be due a goal.

Only James Tarkowski (1.62) and Adam Webster (1.66) have a higher xG value without scoring among Premier League defenders this season.

HARVEY BARNES

Leicester winger Barnes is enjoying a purple patch after scoring three times and claiming two assists in his past six Premier League games.

Perhaps back him while he's hot as Leicester host Leeds United on Sunday.

Barnes has six goals and three assists in the top flight this season, while he also scored six and assisted eight goals across the previous Premier League campaign.

ILKAY GUNDOGAN

It seemed unlikely that Gundogan would be the man to step up and be City's top scorer in the absence of Sergio Aguero this season.

Despite Aguero having been rarely available, the name of Gundogan at the top of City's list of Premier League top scorers might mystify many.

But his seven goals have come from some exhilarating performances, and all have come in his past eight league games. This weekend he could become the first German player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances.

WILFRIED ZAHA

Where would Palace be without Zaha? The Championship seems a likely answer to that, as again his goals and attacking drive are propping up their campaign.

Palace are suffering at the moment, though, having won just one of their past nine league matches, so Saturday's home game with Wolves would be a good moment for Zaha to fire.

He has nine goals in 17 Premier League appearances this season – only in 2018-19, when he netted 10 times, has he managed more in a single campaign in the competition.

MICHAIL ANTONIO

West Ham are challenging for Champions League football. Those eight words are a lot to take in, but Antonio has had a big say in their success this season.

He has five goals in 12 games in the Premier League and two goals and an assist in his past three outings ahead of a home clash with Liverpool, who sit just behind the Hammers.

Antonio enjoys facing Liverpool, having scored more goals against the Reds than any other West Ham player in the Premier League era. His four goals in six appearances against the reigning champions shows Antonio should not be overawed by Sunday's London Stadium occasion.

Could he rub salt into Liverpool's wounds as Jurgen Klopp's side, and their vulnerable defence, wonder where their title challenge has gone to?

The Los Angeles Lakers slumped to back-to-back losses in the NBA, while the Clippers got past the Miami Heat on Thursday.

The Lakers dropped two straight games for the first time this season, beaten 107-92 by the Detroit Pistons.

LeBron James posted a double-double of 22 points and 10 assists, to go with seven rebounds, but the Lakers were beaten.

A day after losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers were without Anthony Davis (quad).

Blake Griffin (23 points) and Mason Plumlee (17 points and 10 rebounds) led the Pistons (5-14) to their surprise win.

The Lakers (14-6) are third in the Western Conference, behind the Utah Jazz (14-4) and Clippers (14-5).

Still without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George due to the NBA's health and safety protocols, the Clippers recorded a 109-105 win over the Heat.

They had six players in double-figures for points, with Serge Ibaka (10 points and 13 rebounds) finishing with a double-double.

The Clippers became the first team in the shot-clock era to win a game despite being outscored by 14-plus points in the first and fourth quarters, as per Stats Perform.

 

Awesome Oladipo leads Rockets, Curry's Warriors crushed

Victor Oladipo finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the Houston Rockets' 104-101 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Damian Lillard (30 points, nine assists and four rebounds) led the way for Portland.

Stephen Curry posted 27 points, but the Golden State Warriors were well beaten by the Phoenix Suns 114-93.

 

Warriors' woes

Kelly Oubre Jr. (one-of-11) and Draymond Green (one-of-seven) struggled from the field for the Warriors, combining for just six points.

 

Wood with the dunk

Christian Wood continued his good form with 22 points, including a big dunk, and 12 rebounds for the Rockets.

Thursday's results

Houston Rockets 104-101 Portland Trail Blazers
Detroit Pistons 107-92 Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Clippers 109-105 Miami Heat
Phoenix Suns 114-93 Golden State Warriors

 

Nets at Thunder

The Brooklyn Nets (12-8) are riding a three-game winning streak ahead of facing the Oklahoma City Thunder (8-9) on Friday. Nets stars Kevin Durant and James Harden are set to come up against their former team.

Bruce Arians believes if there was a player who could match Tom Brady's incredible NFL career, it would be Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes and Brady are preparing to go head-to-head when the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet in Super Bowl LV on February 7.

Brady, 43, will play in his 10th Super Bowl and aim to win it for a seventh time. No other player has even played in seven, with Mike Lodish and Stephen Gostkowski having featured in six.

He is also a four-time Super Bowl MVP and three-time NFL MVP, honours Mahomes has won once previously.

Buccaneers head coach Arians said Mahomes, 25, was capable of matching Brady.

"I think there's so much that goes into that. There's 21 others guy on your team," he told a news conference on Thursday.

"If it was a throwing contest, hell yeah, he'd go get it, but there's a lot of things that happen in different seasons and what Tom has done is historic.

"But there's no doubt that if there was a player who could do it, it would be Patrick."

Mahomes goes into the Super Bowl having won 25 of his past 26 starts (including the postseason). Brady (2003-04) and Jim McMahon (1984-87) are the only other quarterbacks to win 25 of 26 at any points in their careers, and both went 26 of 27.

While the Chiefs are aiming for back-to-back championships, the Buccaneers are in the Super Bowl for the first time since the end of the 2002 season.

Along with Brady, Tampa Bay also landed Rob Gronkowski ahead of this season, and Arians hailed the duo's impact.

"I didn't know about Gronk's work ethic, it's unbelievable. He comes in early, stays late, is great, but he's Gronk so he's got that great personality to go with his work ethic," he said.

"You knew Tom was a great leader. With COVID I don't go in the locker room very much, but those two guys brought something extremely special because they've been there and done it and when young players see that, they listen and you see two totally different personalities doing it the same way."

Tom Brady said his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been "magical" as he prepares for Super Bowl LV.

Brady has led the Buccaneers into the showpiece for the first time since the end of the 2002 season, and the quarterback will line up in his 10th Super Bowl when Tampa Bay face the Kansas City Chiefs on February 7.

While the Buccaneers have that huge game ahead, the 43-year-old said his first campaign with Tampa Bay had been special.

"As it's played out, I've just thought, 'Wow, this has really been a magical year'," Brady told a news conference on Thursday.

"For me as a player to switch teams, that takes a lot and to move my family and to go to a different conference and then to keep building the way we did and develop a rapport with the guys that we have here, so much about football is about the relationships you get with your team-mates, your coaches.

"It's certainly the fact that we're still playing feels really good for me and understand we've put a lot into it and hopefully we can go finish the job, that would be the best part about the season is winning the last game, it's always been a goal, win the last game of the year.

"We've got an opportunity to do it, it's certainly not going to be easy, it's going to take everything we've got, we're going up against a great, championship-level team and it's going to take our best."

Brady will be aiming for his seventh Super Bowl win. No other player has even played in the game seven times (Mike Lodish and Stephen Gostkowski have featured in six).

While Brady is preparing for his 10th Super Bowl, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians will lead a team in the showpiece for the first time.

Brady was full of praise for the 68-year-old, who is in his second season in charge of Tampa Bay.

"He's a great man, he's a great leader, he's a great person, he's a great friend, he's very loyal, he's just got a great way about communicating effectively with everybody around here and everybody has a great affection for him for the person he is," he said.

"There's nobody that ever would say anything bad about BA. He's so endearing to everybody and I think everyone wants to win for him and I think that's what you want to do for a coach, you want to get out there and you want to win for him.

"He puts a lot into it, expects a lot out of it, has high expectations for us every day in practice and just really excited for him to be recognised in the way that he is.

"I know he's two-time coach of the year, but just done an amazing job this year with the team in really adverse situations and just love playing for him."

Patrick Reed and Alex Noren carded eight-under 64s to share the lead after the opening round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

Reed, who missed the cut at last week's The American Express, produced a bogey-free first round on the North Course at Torrey Pines on Thursday.

The American made three straight birdies after starting his round at the 10th and had another run of three straight on his back nine, tying the second-lowest first-round score of his PGA Tour career.

Reed shares a one-stroke lead with Noren, the 2018 runner-up who also fired a 64 on the North Course.

A former top-10 player, Noren has dropped to 96th in the rankings after going winless since 2018.

Scottie Scheffler is outright third after his 65, while 12 players opened with 66s – with only Peter Malnati and Ryan Palmer, who was runner-up alongside Noren three years ago, playing the South Course of that group.

K.J. Choi, 50, is also among that group after a bogey-free round that featured six birdies, as the two-time runner-up – whose last win was in 2012 – surprised.

Beau Hossler, Talor Gooch, Luke List, Sam Burns, Gary Woodland, Lanto Griffin, Rhein Gibson, Cameron Smith and Brandon Hagy are also tied for fourth.

Rory McIlroy made a solid start with a four-under 68 on the South Course, while 2017 winner Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth opened with 69s.

Brooks Koepka is in a tie for 88th after an even-par 72, while two-time champion Jason Day endured a tough opening round, mixing a double bogey with six bogeys and four birdies to shoot a 76.

Richy Werenski, meanwhile, carded a 69 that included a hole-in-one at the third hole on the South Course, having also managed an ace in the final round of last year's event.

Ben Roethlisberger wants to play another NFL season and said he is willing to do whatever it takes to remain with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The veteran quarterback addressed the swirling speculation about his future with the only franchise he has ever known on Thursday, telling The Athletic that he has approached the Steelers about restructuring the final year of his contract.

"I want to do everything I can and made that very clear to them from the very beginning that it was my idea to basically help the team however I can this year," Roethlisberger said. 

Speaking to a group of reporters earlier, Steelers president Art Rooney II affirmed that Roethlisberger has informed the team of his desire to play an 18th NFL season but added that keeping the two-time Super Bowl champion on the roster would be unfeasible with the Steelers' current salary cap situation.

Roethlisberger has a $41.25million cap hit for 2021, the highest of any player, and next year's cap is expected to drastically decrease due to a loss in league revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I think we've been up front with Ben in letting him know that we couldn't have him back under the current contract. I think he understands we have some work to do there," said Rooney per ESPN.

"We'll have conversations internally, and we'll have more conversations with Ben, and we'll have to know what the cap number is to finalise some of those decisions."

Rooney would not say whether the Steelers would ask Roethlisberger to take a pay cut instead of restructuring his deal to spread the remaining $22.5m in guaranteed money across future seasons.  

He said: "I think that those are discussions we'll have with Ben and his representative. It takes two to figure that out, and whether we can agree with what he wants, we'll just have to see."

Rooney added the Steelers remain open to Roethlisberger, who turns 39 in March, returning next season despite his advanced age and decline in play during the second half of a 2020 campaign that ended with a disappointing home loss to the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Wild Card playoff round. 

"We owe it to him to have a conversation about how he wants to end his career, and we intend to that," he said.

Roethlisberger made a successful comeback from a career-threatening elbow injury that limited him to two games in 2019, though his effectiveness waned as last season wore on.

The six-time Pro Bowler threw for 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions while producing a 103.0 passer rating through the first nine games – all Pittsburgh wins. He was intercepted six times with an 83.2 rating over the next six as the Steelers went 3-3 and eventually dropped to the AFC's number three playoff seed.

Roethlisberger did set an NFL postseason record with 47 completions while throwing for 501 yards and four touchdowns in Pittsburgh's lone playoff game but was picked off four times as the Steelers were dealt a 48-37 loss to the Browns.

Despite the rough ending to 2020 for himself and his team, Roethlisberger expressed confidence that both remain capable of performing at a high level next season.

"I am pretty sure I want to go one more year," he said. "I think I can do it and give us a real chance at winning."

"I'm not only a good-weather coach," said Jurgen Klopp ahead of Liverpool's trip to Tottenham. How prophetic.

In the pouring north-London rain on Thursday, the Reds manager took a patched-up defence and misfiring attack to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and put on a show, one that will have the Manchester clubs feeling a touch of nerves.

Liverpool's 3-1 victory was their sixth in a row against Spurs and Klopp's fifth in nine league games against Jose Mourinho, but this was still something of a surprise. The Reds had won once in seven games in all competitions, lost their last two at home to Burnley and away to Manchester United, and struggled their way through 482 minutes and 93 shots without scoring in the league.

They welcomed back Joel Matip and captain Jordan Henderson but lost Fabinho to a muscle problem, and Matip himself only lasted the first half. This was a patched-up, pockmarked line-up tasked with stopping Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who have scored and assisted 41 times between them this season.

They had to ride their luck early on, the remarkably ruthless Son slotting past Alisson with his first chance only to be penalised for an offside heel. There was an element of fortune about Liverpool's opener, too: Sadio Mane's scuffed cross reached Roberto Firmino for a tap-in only because Eric Dier and Hugo Lloris chose to let it bobble between them.

But it was a goal, and a win, that Klopp's men wholly deserved.

Mourinho seemed to sense it, too. If he was furious with Firmino's goal, he was apoplectic when Trent Alexander-Arnold, another whose form has been questioned, rifled in a second just after half-time after Lloris parried the ball right to his boot. Pierre-Emile Hojgbjerg blasted in a stunning reply but it never felt as though Liverpool's lead was under threat, even after Mohamed Salah's goal was disallowed for a distant Firmino handball.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg made sure of it when he let Alexander-Arnold's deep cross reach Mane, who blasted home. It's now 21 goal involvements in the league for the right-back since the start of last season, the most of any defender in the competition. That patchwork defence then made certain Alisson did not have another save to make, even with Son, Erik Lamela, Steven Bergwijn and Gareth Bale on the pitch, the injured Kane having exited at half-time.

This was not 'vintage' Liverpool, if there can be such a thing. There were poor misses and errant backheels apiece from Salah and Mane, and Thiago Alcantara was ineffective even before suffering a cut head. They were also given a huge helping hand by some abject Spurs defending. But for a team who haven't won a league game for over a month, this was pretty emphatic.

Klopp's men are now back to within three points of United and four of leaders Manchester City. They meet Pep Guardiola's men at Anfield on February 7 – a match they will now likely go into with a far sunnier outlook.

Trent Alexander-Arnold scored for the first time this season and laid on an assist as Liverpool ended their Premier League goal drought with a 3-1 victory at Tottenham.

The champions had not scored in their previous four games amid a five-match winless run in the top flight, but ended their slump at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Thursday to move four points behind leaders Manchester City in fourth place.

Roberto Firmino opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time after Son Heung-min had a goal ruled out for offside and Alexander-Arnold added a second shortly after the restart.

Spurs suffered a big blow when Harry Kane could not return for the second half after having treatment on both ankles, but Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg halved the deficit within two minutes of Alexander-Arnold’s strike.

Sadio Mane gave Liverpool, who lost Joel Matip to injury at the break, breathing space as Tottenham's eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions came to a halt in a major setback to their hopes of challenging for the title.

Mane wasted a glorious chance to give the Reds an early lead when he fired wide from close range and that looked to be costly when Son finished clinically soon after, but the goal was ruled out for offside following a VAR check.

Son shot straight at a grateful Alisson on the counter-attack before Mane was twice denied by Hugo Lloris, as the Reds dominated possession without being able to end their top-flight goal drought.

The breakthrough came just before the interval, though, fit-again captain Jordan Henderson – playing as a centre-back with Fabinho ruled out – piercing the Spurs defence with a brilliant ball over the top for Mane, who set Firmino up for a tap-in.

Jose Mourinho made a double change at half-time, with Kane and Serge Aurier replaced by Erik Lamela and Harry Winks, while Nathaniel Phillips took Matip's place at the heart of Jurgen Klopp's back four.

Alexander-Arnold doubled Liverpool's lead two minutes into the second period with a clinical right-foot finish following a mistake from Lloris, who palmed Mane's shot into his path.

Hojbjerg quickly got Spurs back into the match with a rasping long-range drive before referee Martin Atkinson disallowed a Mohamed Salah goal for handball against Firmino.

Liverpool were not to be denied a third goal after 65 minutes, though, the excellent Alexander-Arnold whipping in a cross that Joe Rodon failed to deal with and Sane punished the defender by lashing home with his left foot.

Kylian Mbappe will be at Paris Saint-Germain "for many years to come", according to head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

Real Madrid have been heavily linked with a move for World Cup-winning attacker Mbappe, whose contract with PSG is due to expire at the end of next season.

The 22-year-old has scored 106 goals and set up a further 54 in 147 appearances for PSG. Since his debut for the club on September 8, 2017, the only players in the top five European Leagues to have registered more goal involvements are Robert Lewandowski (184) and Lionel Messi (205).

Mbappe is in talks with the club about a renewal but has never hidden his admiration for Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

Pochettino is not worried, though, and believes Mbappe's future is at the Parc des Princes.

"Who doesn't love Kylian? He makes himself loved, with his smile, his face and his energy," Pochettino told Marca.

"At the age of 19 he was a world champion [with France], impressive things have happened to him, but he is special and different, with a lot of emotional intelligence.

"He has a lot of potential to develop but he is already [someone for the] present, not just the future. It's a challenge and a good thing to work with this kind of talent, it makes you a better coach. You give this type of player a solution and he gives you five back.

"There are a lot of rumours, but I think he will be at PSG for many years to come, and that's the club's hope. We are counting on him for as long as we are here.

"It's true that he has to make a decision [on his future], but he seems happy and very committed to this project."

PSG are open to the possibility of signing Messi from Barcelona, with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner able to leave Camp Nou on a free at the end of the season.

Asked if having Messi in his team would make him a better coach, Pochettino replied: "Whatever I say will be misunderstood, and I love what I have. Great footballers fit in any league and any team."

He was far more forthcoming when discussing Sergio Ramos, another high-profile player that will be a free agent at the conclusion of the campaign if he does not sign an extension with Madrid.

"After one month [at PSG] I am finding players with great leadership. The great [players] are able to play and coexist in different projects and cultures, but I am very respectful," said Pochettino.

"PSG's strategy has been the same for years, ever since we signed Ronaldinho: to look at market opportunities and bring in those who can improve what we have. We will see in the coming months.

"Here, Ramos would find a great club with the obsession to always win. PSG are one of the biggest [clubs] in the world."

Weverton and Gabriel Menino will be key to Palmeiras' hopes of defeating Santos in the Copa Libertadores final on Saturday, according to Zinho.

The former Brazil international, a World Cup winner in 1994, was part of the first and only Palmeiras side to lift the Libertadores in 1999.

Marcos made a crucial save in a penalty shoot-out as the Sao Paulo giants overcame Deportivo Cali on that occasion and Zinho believes their goalkeeper may prove key this year too.

"Their strength, for me, is the whole. But if you ask me to choose one, I would choose the goalkeeper, who for me is the best goalkeeper playing in Brazil, which is Weverton," Zinho told Stats Perform News.

In the Libertadores and Campeonato Brasileiro this season, Weverton has conceded 24 times from an expected goals on target (xGOT) value of 33.9, meaning he has prevented 9.9 goals.

Only Luan Polli (6.8) of Sport Recife and Athletico Paranaense's Santos (7.2) outperform his 5.3 goals prevented in the Brasileirao, while Sergio Rochet of Nacional (5.2) is the solitary keeper with a better figure than Weverton's 4.6 in the Libertadores.

The young star

Palmeiras are also blessed with young talent and Menino is undoubtedly part of their most promising players.

Having been converted from a midfielder to a right-back, it has been suggested Menino could be the long-term successor to Dani Alves for the Brazil national team.

The 20-year-old has already been called up twice by Tite but was robbed of a potential debut in November after contracting coronavirus.

"Gabriel Menino [can be important] because of his versatility. He plays on both sides, he plays in the middle. During the match, he also can play as a striker. He is very versatile and he is very important for the team," said Zinho.

Regardless of where he plays, Menino makes his impact felt for Palmeiras.

In the league this season he leads the team in assists (five), and his 34 chances created are only surpassed by Lucas Lima (40).

It doesn't stop there; Menino has the most successful passes in the opposition half (440), has won the joint-most fouls (48), completed the second-most dribbles (30) and won the second-most duels (139).

 

A potent attack

Menino has also scored three goals and supplied one assist in the Libertadores this season, but the competition has very much been Rony's domain.

"I will say these two guys [Weverton and Menino] are key players and they must be in the game. But, of course, Rony is one of the top scorers, one of the leaders in assists in this competition," said Zinho.

"Luiz Adriano is a great, experienced, very good player. So in the offensive part, that looks for the goal, there are Rony and Luiz Adriano with more evidence. So I stay with those players."

Rony has more goal involvements than any other player in the Libertadores this season (12 – seven assists, five goals) and two of his assists have been for former Milan striker Luiz Adriano, who has found the back of the net five times in his six appearances in this edition of the Libertadores.

A place in the Club World Cup is on the line and a potential meeting with Hansi Flick's all-conquering Bayern Munich in Qatar awaits.

"If Bayern go with their maximum strength and face the game seriously, man… in football anything can happen," said Zinho.

"In football you cannot say 'it's guaranteed', but the difference between them is so big, it's huge. Bayern is infinitely better. If Bayern go focused and with desire, looking for the title, probably all the favouritism is for Bayern. But this is football, and it's why it's so lovely."

Eduardo Camavinga may have long been linked with a move to Real Madrid but the teenage midfielder wants to sign a contract extension at Rennes.

Madrid and Juventus are believed to be admirers of the 18-year-old midfielder, whose deal at Roazhon Park is due to expire at the end of next season.

Among midfielders currently aged 21 or younger to have played in at least 10 games in the top five European leagues this season, only Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni (780) has made more successful passes than Camavinga (728). However, the Rennes talent has a superior passing accuracy of 89.9 per cent compared to his counterpart's 82.1.

His average of 3.9 tackles per 90 minutes is only bettered by Huesca's Sergio Gomez (4.4), though the Spaniard has played 345 minutes compared to Camavinga's 1,224. When disregarding the age of the player, Camavinga ranks ninth for total tackles.

It is easy to see why Rennes are keen to tie him down to fresh terms and it is something the France international is open to.

Asked if he wanted to extend his contract, Camavinga replied: "Yes.

"There are negotiations. Afterwards, there is my father to talk about that. There is a reflection on everything.

"It's you [the media] who see me go. Me, for now, I am 100 per cent focused on the club."

Camavinga became the youngest player to be capped by France in 106 years when he made his senior international debut last September.

The following month he became the second youngest goalscorer for Les Bleus when he found the net against Ukraine aged 17 years and 11 months.

Martin Odegaard was always fighting a "lost battle" with comparisons to Lionel Messi but has the characteristics needed to flourish at Arsenal, says Mikel Arteta. 

The Gunners completed a deal to take Odegaard on loan from Real Madrid until the end of the season on Wednesday, handing the attacking midfielder the number 11 shirt that was worn by Mesut Ozil when he joined the club. 

Odegaard was signed by Los Blancos from Stromsgodset as a prodigious teenager and has had loan spells in the Eredivisie with Heerenveen and Vitesse before impressing in a temporary stint with Real Sociedad last term. 

Madrid opted to recall him for the 2020-21 campaign, though the 22-year-old struggled to nail down a regular spot in Zinedine Zidane's team. 

Arteta is excited by Odegaard's qualities but did urge caution, saying comparisons to Barcelona great Messi are unhelpful. 

"I wouldn't even get close to that name you just mentioned [Messi] because it's a lost battle in my opinion. Martin is Martin," Arteta said when previewing Saturday's clash with Manchester United. 

"In the last few seasons he's progressed and developed in the right way. I follow him very closely because he played for Real Sociedad which is my hometown and I know him really well. 

"He's such a talent. He needs the right environment, a little bit of time, but he's got the qualities to be a success for us. He's a specialist to playing in the pockets, to be in the number eight, number 10 positions. 

"He can play on the sides, a really creative player, really comfortable on the ball in tight spaces, the capacity to create chances, to score goals. 

"Something he has improved a lot is his work rate without the ball as well. It's another option to give us more creativity in the final third."

Last season, Odegaard topped Sociedad's squad for chances created in LaLiga, crafting 62 opportunities in total as he provided six assists from 31 appearances. He also boasted an impressive passing accuracy of 84.74 per cent. 

This term he has been afforded just three LaLiga starts by Zidane, albeit Arteta made clear several factors will determine whether a permanent deal will be struck. 

"He has certainly all the qualities and characteristics that we are looking for," he added. 

"Then it would be down to two things – first of all, how well he adapts here and how much of an impact he can have in our team, and second, what Real Madrid and the player thinks about it because he's owned by Real Madrid and the player has a big say on that. 

"I just wanted to give him a clear picture of who we are as a club, what we are trying to do, what we expect from him, just try to transmit the passion and excitement that we had to bring him in. 

"I wanted to show him the project, how he fits and just try to persuade him that this is the right place for him and try to make things work." 

Arsenal are on a six-match unbeaten run in the Premier League to improve their previously precarious top-flight standing to ninth. 

They welcome a Manchester United side who saw their own 13-match unbeaten league run surprisingly ended by rock-bottom Sheffield United on Wednesday. 

"It's not a surprise because to beat any team in this league is extremely difficult and it's not taken for granted," Arteta said when asked about that game.  

"Sheffield United are a really good threat and you see that. They've lost games they didn't deserve to lose." 

Arsenal were the last side to beat United in the league before the Blades' unlikely triumph, while they have not lost to the Red Devils since an FA Cup defeat in January 2019. 

Still, Arteta says there is nothing to be gleaned from a decent recent record against United. 

"I think every game is completely different, they have the capacity and the quality to beat any side in the world, we know we’re going to have to be at our best," he said. 

"The games are huge, we need to be better than what we were on Tuesday [a 3-1 win at Southampton] to beat them. 

"They've been in top form. They've been top of the table playing really well. We know they are a real threat. We have to be at our best to beat them on Saturday."

Thomas Tuchel has confirmed he was a Tottenham fan as a boy but insists he now only has eyes for Chelsea. 

The new Blues head coach had his formal presentation on Thursday, after taking over from the sacked Frank Lampard. 

Tuchel was brought up in the Bavarian town of Krumbach in the 1970s and 1980s, when sport on television was scarcely seen, and he puts it down to youthful naivety that he happened to support Tottenham. 

The ages-old enmity between Tottenham and Chelsea means Tuchel cannot afford to have split loyalties now, and he insists his days of idolising Spurs stars have long gone. 

"When I was young there was no daily match live on TV and no daily live match from the Bundesliga," said Tuchel. "What I could actually see was one or two minutes every four weeks and suddenly a club like Tottenham Hotspur came across on our sports broadcaster once every four weeks. 

"Suddenly I heard the name Tottenham Hotspur, which sounded like a big adventure and gave me a big advantage playing with my friends, because they had no idea where that club was." 

Tuchel joked: "I was young, I needed the money! 

"No, I was young but that was one of my first experiences. I didn't even know it was a club from London. 

"But now I'm absolutely aware I work for their big rivals and we'll do everything we can to beat them next week."

The trip to Tottenham on February 4 will be a major early test for Tuchel as he goes up against former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho. 

Tuchel has plenty of Premier League knowledge and has an ongoing friendship with Pep Guardiola, boss of leaders Manchester City. 

"Absolutely, I spoke with Pep a lot since he's worked here," Tuchel said. 

He believes competing against such elite coaches and teams will "bring the best out of me" and had a smile when Chelsea's turnover of managers was mentioned. 

Tuchel knows he must succeed and keep succeeding to stay in his post, saying: "In the end at Chelsea, it is about results. 

"I'm very realistic that I'm in a club whose DNA it is to win and go for trophies, and I'm here to challenge for every trophy we play for." 

During his time at Paris Saint-Germain, whom he guided to successive Ligue 1 titles and last year's Champions League final, Tuchel became accustomed to demands for his team to keep winning. 

He was ousted from his job in December after PSG lost four matches in their domestic league before Christmas, yet across his time with the French giants his team scored at a rate of one goal every 33.7 minutes of Ligue 1 action. 

Chelsea began this season at an impressive clip by scoring 29 times in their first 14 Premier League games under Lampard, but the goals have dried up since, with only four coming in their subsequent six matches in the competition. 

They have not scored more than once in that run and it was a seven-game streak from October to December in 2015 when they last experienced a longer spell without getting two or more goals in a league fixture. 

On Sunday, Chelsea face an in-form Burnley, with Tuchel looking to make up for the false start of the goalless draw with Wolves on Wednesday. 

He said it was "not realistic" to target the Premier League title in his first season, with Chelsea already 11 points behind a Manchester City side who also have a game in hand.

"Realistically this year it's the Champions League and the FA Cup," Tuchel said.

Kagiso Rabada put his impressive achievement of reaching 200 Test wickets down to hard work but insisted the "show goes on" after becoming the third fastest South African to reach the milestone.  

The Proteas paceman claimed 3-70 in Pakistan’s first innings during the series opener in Karachi, with the last of those wickets seeing him get to the notable personal landmark in his international career.  

Hasan Ali was bowled to see Rabada make it to 200 on day three of his 44th Test outing; only Dale Steyn (39) and Allan Donald (42) have managed it in fewer appearances for South Africa.  

He is also the third quickest ever when it comes to deliveries bowled – Waqar Younis and Steyn sit above him on that list – having recorded nine five-wicket hauls and taken 10 in a match on four occasions.  

For Rabada, there remains the appetite within to keep on improving, worrying words for opposing batsmen around the world when you consider he is still just 25. 

"It's just hard work and spending a lot of time on your craft, seeing where you can get better," Rabada told the media about his success in the Test arena. "Analysing it, but not over-thinking it.  

"It hasn't all been easy – you find yourself trying to perfect something that might seem so simple, but it's constant repetition, hours and hours of work, so being relentless with that and trying to see how much better you can get and finding ways."

Asked about being in the same company as compatriot Steyn and Pakistan great Waqar when it comes to balls bowled, Rabada replied: "It's a massive feat to be included in a list of such names.  

"When you start playing you don't ever think that you'd be on such a list and have such statistics. All you want to do is the best that you can. 

"I'm really glad, it's satisfying; it's a great milestone, but the show goes on."

Rabada missed the chance to bring up his 200th wicket on home soil as he did not feature in the recent series against Sri Lanka in South Africa, the Proteas understandably taking no risks with their premier strike bowler upon his return from a groin injury.

It meant his appearance against Pakistan was his first in the format since the third match of the series against England, back in January 2020. 

"Test cricket never gets old, never gets any easier as well – you are constantly challenged," Rabada explained upon his return to duty for his country

"Playing in Pakistan as well, it's quite an amazing place. The only place that I haven't played previously, so I'm glad to have the opportunity to play here.  

"It's been hard work, just like any Test match, especially in the subcontinent where you have to be more patient. It teaches you a lot of lessons and I've been reminded of some of them."

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