Real Madrid star Karim Benzema will return to Ligue 1 side Lyon, according to his agent Karim Djaziri.

Benzema came through Lyon's academy and spent five years with the senior side until joining Madrid in 2009, having established himself as one of Europe's most promising young players following four successive Ligue 1 crowns.

Since moving to Madrid, Benzema has won four Champions League titles and three LaLiga trophies among 18 pieces of silverware in the Spanish capital.

But Djaziri hinted at a return to boyhood club Lyon for the 33-year-old striker.

"Will Karim Benzema return to Lyon? Yes, I honestly think he will," Djaziri told Inside Gones.

"He talks to me constantly and he watches all of the team's matches.

"On top of that, he has never been to the Groupama Stadium and in his mind it is something he wants, he has Lyon in his heart."

Benzema has scored 10 LaLiga goals for defending champions Madrid this season after his double inspired a 4-1 rout of Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

In total, Benzema has netted 15 goals across all competitions in 2020-21.

Benzema has scored at least 15 goals in 10 out of his 11 seasons for Madrid in all competitions.

Madrid, meanwhile, are second in the table and seven points adrift of neighbours Atletico Madrid – who have a game in hand.

Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes insisted he does not need to be rested after coming off the bench to secure FA Cup victory over rivals Liverpool.

Fernandes was among the substitutes in Sunday's 3-2 FA Cup fourth-round triumph at Old Trafford, where he was introduced in the second half and scored the match-winning 78th-minute free-kick.

The Portugal international has now scored 28 goals for United in all competitions since his debut in February 2020 – more than any other player for a Premier League club.

Fernandes has helped rejuvenate United, who have gone from struggling to qualify for the Champions League to topping the Premier League table through 19 matches in 2020-21.

But Fernandes dismissed claims he is tired, saying: "Tired? With 26 years old I can't be tired. If I'm tired now, when I arrive at 30, 32, I will not play.

"I will play one game in five [days] so, no, I'm not tired."

Fernandes, who dropped out of the starting line-up for Donny van de Beek against Liverpool, added: "Of course the coach knows what is better for the team and he chose to play with Donny to give some freshness to the team.

"I think it's fair enough because Donny is training really well, he's been important for us and will be more and more important in the future."

Former Sporting CP captain Fernandes is determined to lead United to silverware, following three semi-final appearances last season in the Europa League, FA Cup and EFL Cup.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United, who last won the Premier League in 2012-13, also lost in the semi-finals of this season's EFL Cup.

"I don't conform with [the idea that] losing games is normal stuff," said Fernandes. "For me, losing is not normal so my mentality comes from that, you know? I always was like this. I don’t like to lose, so maybe the mentality is more like I don't like to lose.

"Also playing whatever it is, when I was playing with my friends, my brother, my neighbours, I never wanted to lose, I want to win every time. This mentality will be with me for the rest of my life, I think."

United – two points clear of neighbours Manchester City, who have a game in hand – face Sheffield United on Wednesday, are through to the FA Cup fifth round and will meet Real Sociedad in the Europa League last 32.

Fernandes said: "I came to the club because I knew this is a club who wants to win everything. So you have to be confident, you have to trust your team-mates, you have to trust yourself, and you have to believe.

"And I will believe until it's not possible. Like when I see someone get the trophy before me [only] then I will [have] lost my belief."

Tom Brady's father revealed he and his wife both battled coronavirus last year in a "life and death" situation as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar prepares for his 10th Super Bowl.

Another Super Bowl awaits six-time champion Brady, who guided the Buccaneers past the top-seeded Green Bay Packers 31-26 in Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.

Brady – who is in his first season with the Buccaneers after 20 trophy-laden campaigns at the New England Patriots, led Tampa Bay to the NFL showpiece for the first time since 2003.

Tampa Bay will become the first team in NFL history to play a home Super Bowl – at Raymond James Stadium, where defending champions the Kansas City Chiefs await on February 7.

It has been a challenging season in the NFL and for people around the world due to COVID-19, and Tom Brady Sr. opened up on a family battle involving his wife Galynn that left the Buccaneers quarterback "stressed out".

"When the season started this year I was in the hospital with COVID for almost three weeks and my wife was sick with COVID at the same time," Brady Sr. told ESPN.

"We didn't even see the first two games of the year. It was the first two games I ever missed of his career because I was sick as a dog and my wife was as sick as a dog.

"I didn't even care if they were playing much less missing the game. It was a matter of life and death, just like anyone who goes into the hospital. It was serious stuff.

"Tommy fought through it and now it's in the rear-view mirror. We're healthy, we're happy and everything is good."

Brady – who will go head-to-head with reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LV – now has more playoff wins since turning 35 (17) than any other quarterback has in his entire career, per Stats Perform.

Tampa Bay's Brady became the third player all-time with three-plus touchdown passes and three-plus interceptions in a conference championship game, joining Joe Montana (1981 NFC Championship) and Mark Malone (1984 AFC Championship).

It was also the fourth time Brady has thrown three-plus interceptions in a playoff game, and his teams are 3-1 in those matchups (most such wins all-time) – his sides are 0-9 when he has three-plus interceptions in a regular-season game.

This was the 20th occasion Brady has led his team to 30-plus points in a postseason game – no other player has even half that total (second is Troy Aikman with nine). Brady's teams are 18-2 in those games.

Brady will feature in his 10th Super Bowl – the next most by a player is six by Mike Lodish and Stephen Gostkowski, after the Buccaneers became the fifth team all-time to win three road games in a single postseason.

"This year has been unbelievable," he continued. "Not knowing where we're going to start the season out, and being where we are to end the season is just a stunning development as far as I'm concerned.

"… Getting to the 10th Super Bowl in 19 years of playing is pretty -- it's incomprehensible, actually. It's beyond anything we could ever imagine."

Baltimore Ravens star and reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson "deserves" a new deal, insisted general manager Eric DeCosta.

Jackson is entering the final year of his rookie contract after his third NFL campaign came to an end at the hands of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Round.

The 24-year-old quarterback is set to command a lucrative contract after Kansas City Chiefs counterpart Patrick Mahomes and Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson each signed big-money deals.

"There is certainly a chance of that [discussing contract]. I will be talking to Lamar probably in the next 10 days or so," DeCosta told reporters on Monday.

"He's down in Florida. We've got a great relationship. He's got a great relationship with this organisation. He's a very easy person to talk to and certainly deserves a contract.

"He has played phenomenal football over the last couple of years. Our intention, and my intention, is to keep him in Baltimore for many, many years."

But the coronavirus pandemic means long-term contracts will be more challenging, with DeCosta adding: "With the salary cap there are some unique challenges this year. The cap could be $175million, it could be $185m, we don't really know yet."

Jackson has won more games (30) than any other quarterback since taking over as Baltimore's starter midway through the 2018 season and became the fastest QB in NFL history to reach 30 regular-season victories (37 games).

He is also the first in league history to produce 5,000 passing yard and 2,500 rushing yards in his first three NFL seasons.

Jackson had 242 completions for 2,757 yards – at 64.4 per cent – 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 15 appearances for the Ravens this season.

In total, Jackson has tallied 606 completions, 7,085 yards, 68 touchdowns and 18 interceptions since entering the league.

"A couple of years ago, when I was doing my first press conference, we said we would try to do more deals, we would try to sign our players," DeCosta said.

"We've done that, and I'm proud of that. A lot of the credit for that really does go to [senior vice-president of football operations] Pat Moriarty and [director of football administration] Nick Matteo. It's something that evolves over time. These types of things just don't happen arbitrarily.

"We want to keep our good young players. We want our fans to be able to reap the enjoyment of these players over time, if we can. We will continue to engage in talks with all of our good young players."

Manchester City are not ready to put a date on Sergio Aguero's return to action, yet Pep Guardiola expects the club's record goalscorer to "help us in the decisive moments" this season.

Aguero underwent meniscus surgery last June and then saw a hamstring injury hamper his initial comeback in October.

These issues have limited the 32-year-old to just nine appearances in all competitions this season, which have yielded two goals.

Aguero also had to self-isolate earlier in January when he was set for an outing in the FA Cup and last week revealed he had tested positive for coronavirus.

Into the final six months of his City contract, Guardiola is keen to have Aguero back available, although he detailed how the striker was laid low by the effects of COVID-19.

"The important thing is when we text him during the first three, four days, he struggled, he felt so tired, but today he sent a message to the backroom staff to say he feels much better," Guardiola said ahead of Tuesday's trip to West Brom.

"Now he needs to test negative and abide by the protocols, and then start to come back here and move and see how he feels, day by day.

"I cannot tell you [when he will be back], I don't know how he will react in the first days when we start to train."

There have been only three starts for Aguero this term, with his pitch time a meagre 260 minutes overall.

The Argentina international has scored with both of his shots in the Champions League but failed to register in the Premier League, having four efforts across five outings and passing up a big chance with his only shot on target against Newcastle United.

A contract extension remains on the agenda, though, and Guardiola sees Aguero rediscovering the scoring touch that has so far brought 256 goals in 316 games for City, netting with 19 per cent of his attempts.

"I don't know when he is coming back, February or March, but I'm so optimistic that he will give us until the end of the season some good, good months," Guardiola said. "I'm so optimistic.

"He is going to help us in the decisive moments, to give us the goals and the difference that we need. I'm so confident it's going to happen."

In 2018-19, as Vincent Kompany entered the final months of his contract, the former City captain put long-term injury troubles behind him to play a key role in their most recent title success.

Guardiola was asked if the plan was for Aguero to have a similar impact and replied: "Hopefully. Hopefully it's going to happen.

"But at the same time, Vincent had an incredible quality; after being two months injured in the gym, he can go out and play one training session and play incredibly well.

"Sergio doesn't know if he has this quality to immediately go out and do it. He needs the special sharpness and the first steps for this quality to score a goal, but it depends on him.

"At the end, we'll see him in the training session and on the pitch and it's easy to realise if he's fit or not.

"But hopefully he can help us with the special quality he has. That's why he is one of the best strikers ever - not just in England, all the time in football history."

Inter beat Juventus. Juventus beat Milan. Milan beat Inter. For once it has been tough to predict the title race in Serie A.

Winning the Scudetto was not enough for Maurizio Sarri to keep his job at Juve last season, meaning Andrea Pirlo is under significant pressure as the Bianconeri chase a 10th straight league crown.

However, they have struggled to convince under the former midfield metronome and sit seven points adrift of leaders Milan in fourth, although they hold a game in hand.

There has seemingly never been a better chance for Inter, who are two points off top in second, and Milan to end Scudetto droughts that date back to 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively.

Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league campaign, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

 

INTER END JUVE'S REIGN

Although they sit second at the halfway stage, our model predicts Inter will end Juve's dominance of Serie A.

Inter have a 35.7 per cent chance of topping the table for the first time since their treble-winning campaign of 2009-10 and it is projected they will do so by a two-point advantage.

Not only do Milan surrender top spot to the Nerazzurri, they slip behind Juve into third with the top three separated by just three points. It would still represent their best finish since 2012-13.

Juve's chance of retaining the title is deemed to be 23.1 per cent, marginally better than Milan's 21.6 per cent.

ATALANTA RETURN TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Gian Piero Gasperini steered Atalanta to Champions League qualification for the first time in their history in 2018-19 and made it back-to-back top-three finishes last season.

They are predicted to return to Europe's premier club competition by finishing fourth, edging out Napoli – they even have a 6.8 per cent chance of pulling off an unlikely title win.

Gennaro Gattuso's side have a 17 per cent probability of snatching the final Champions League qualification berth, with Atalanta's prospects narrowly superior at 17.4 per cent.

Roma are predicted to fall from their current position of third down to sixth but that is still good enough for them to deny arch-rivals Lazio qualification to the inaugural Europa Conference League.

The top six may need to beware of Sassuolo, Hellas Verona and Sampdoria, however. Sassuolo have a 0.3 per cent likelihood of finishing inside the top four, while Verona (0.6 per cent) and Sampdoria (0.3 per cent) also have an outside chance of stealing European qualification, though our predictor suggests Lazio will finish 12 points clear of Sassuolo in seventh.

 

GENOA AND TORINO ESCAPE DROP

At the turn of the year Torino were rock bottom with one win from their opening 14 games and Genoa were in the relegation zone with them.

However, Torino and Genoa have both moved out of the bottom three by claiming six points and eight points respectively over their past five games.

The two sides are predicted to maintain strong enough form to stay out of the drop zone, with Crotone (20th), Parma (19th) and Cagliari (18th) projected to suffer relegation to Serie B.

It is by no means a guarantee, though. Genoa are only 0.2 per cent more likely to come 17th than they are to suffer relegation by finishing 18th, while Torino's differential between 15th – where they are predicted to place – and third-bottom is 2.7 per cent.

An intriguing NBA season continued to take shape last week with more shock results in the East.

The Philadelphia 76ers are at the summit as the teams below them trade wins in a far more balanced conference than the Los Angeles-led West.

Therefore, the big increases and decreases in production across the NBA were centred on the East, including big displays from one Sixers star while another tailed off.

We take a look at the best and worst performers of the week with the help of Stats Perform data.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Joel Embiid

Knee and back issues, along with the Philadelphia 76ers' coronavirus crisis, have impacted Embiid's time on the floor already this season, but he is now moving through the gears. The center had scored 45 points against the Miami Heat on January 12, only to then contribute just nine against the same team two days later. But there since looks to be consistency to Embiid's play as he tallied 42, 38 and 33 points in three Sixers wins last week, recording a double-double on each occasion. This weekly average of 37.7 improved the 26-year-old's season scoring from 25.0 points per game to 27.7 and appeared to lift the big man into the early MVP conversation.

Gordon Hayward

Staying fit is always likely to be the key for Hayward, given his awful injury record. He has played in 15 of the Charlotte Hornets' 16 games so far, though, and is averaging a career-high 24.1 points for the season. That mark was boosted from 22.2 points per game over the past week as Hayward turned in a pair of big performances against the Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic. His 34 points in the first game were not enough for a win, but 39 points at Orlando, along with nine rebounds, helped lift the Hornets to a competitive 7-9. Hayward's big contract has been justified to this point.

Clint Capela

The Atlanta Hawks recovered to a .500 record last week and Capela had a huge impact on both ends of the floor. The former Houston Rockets center averaged 21.0 points across three Hawks wins before sitting out the defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, but scoring is just one facet of his game; Capela also contributed 20.0 rebounds per game - the biggest increase on a seasonal average across the whole league. Perhaps most notable of all, though, was the 10-block triple-double that saw Atlanta past the Minnesota Timberwolves. His 2.3 blocks per game rank third in the NBA.

Kendrick Nunn

COVID-19 protocol kept Nunn on the sidelines for a stretch earlier this month, but the second-year point guard is back in the groove - even if the Miami Heat are still struggling to rediscover their playoff form from last season. Nunn started all 67 of his regular season appearances in 2019-20, only to lose his place in the starting five for the run to the NBA Finals. He is being utilised from the bench again this year but provided a huge scoring boost last week. The 25-year-old averaged 21.5 points across the Heat's four games, his increase of 16.0 from his prior mark of 5.5 per game the biggest such improvement in the league.

GOING COLD...

Terry Rozier

While Hayward stepped up in Charlotte, it was not a vintage week for team-mate Rozier. With 42-point and 35-point games to his name this season, the former Boston Celtics point guard was way off the pace in averaging 8.5 points across two games in which he played 38 minutes on both occasions. That knocked Rozier's season average down from 19.9 to 18.5, with a clear decline in his three-point shooting the obvious cause for concern. He shot 2-of-12 from beyond the arc, making 1.0 threes per game, down from 3.4.

Andre Drummond

The Cleveland Cavaliers stole the show last week with a sweep of the Brooklyn Nets in their double-header, but Drummond did not match the standard he had set previously in a monster game against the New York Knicks. Drummond had season-highs of 33 points and 23 rebounds as the Knicks visited Cleveland, yet he then fell short of a double-double for the first time all year in the first Nets game. Sunday's trip to the Celtics then saw Drummond play just 18 minutes, scoring a meagre 11 points, and he finished the week with 9.3 rebounds per game - solid enough but well down on his prior average of 15.8.

Tyrese Maxey

The Sixers' COVID-19 issues might have slowed the team's early momentum, but rookie Maxey was flying heading into last week. Outstanding with 39 points in a seven-man rotation against the Denver Nuggets on January 9, the 20-year-old kept his place and was averaging 11.4 points per game prior to Wednesday's meeting with Boston. But Maxey did not score a single point in that win and duly lost his place for the second Celtics matchup. He finished the week with just four points from three games, shooting 2-of-9 from the field.

LaMelo Ball

Rookie seasons tend to be rollercoaster affairs and Ball is certainly finding that. He is yet to start for the Hornets this season but was steadily contributing double-figures at the turn of the year, including an outstanding triple-double against Atlanta on January 9. Last week, Ball averaged just 9.0 points and 3.0 rebounds across Charlotte's two games, although he did contribute eight assists in the win over the Magic.

Pep Guardiola offered his sympathy to sacked Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard but recognised managers have to win to keep their jobs in the Premier League.

Blues playing great Lampard was dismissed on Monday following a run of just two victories in eight league matches, leaving Chelsea in ninth and 11 points off the top.

A club statement described "a very difficult decision", but owner Roman Abramovich is now set to turn to Thomas Tuchel, who was fired by Paris Saint-Germain last month.

Lampard averaged an underwhelming 1.67 points per game during his tenure and Manchester City counterpart Guardiola knows more is expected.

"Young and old managers, here you have to win," Guardiola said. "When the people talk about projects and ideas, they don't exist. You have to win; if not, you will be sacked.

"Respect for Chelsea, huge hug for Frank. Hopefully I can see him soon; when the lockdown will be over, I can go to a restaurant to see him again."

Asked for his assessment of Lampard's work, Guardiola reiterated: "It depends on the results.

"The way we play, the philosophy, the project... you have to get results. If you don't, you will be replaced by another manager."

But the City boss does wish coaches were given more time - from the media as well as clubs.

"All the managers, we need this," he said. "I'm not judging the decision from Chelsea ,I am not there. Respect in every decision, it has to be this way.

"But sometimes the journalists ask the club to be patient when the journalists don't have patience. We drop one game and we should sack all the managers?

"We try to win as much as possible, but it doesn't happen if you don't have the directors, the board, the owners and CEOs in the same line and you know exactly what the target is.

"Every manager needs time to do what you believe or make the players feel that it doesn't matter what happens, we believe in this, in this idea.

"And that is exceptional; it only happens in a few places around the world because the board, owners, CEOs want results immediately, quick, quick, quick.

"Winning the Premier League in November is better than January and winning in January is better than May. But this doesn't happen.

"It's difficult to talk about the projects in years, because in one month you can drop everything you built. The opponents also have good players, managers, too; you are always at risk to be out."

Guardiola finds himself in a relatively comfortable position at City, though, after a run of 10 straight victories in all competitions eased early-season pressure.

West Brom, up next on Tuesday, were the last team to stop City winning, but Guardiola is not interested in reflecting on how they turned their season around following that 1-1 draw.

"It's difficult to say," he said. "We won the next game in Southampton, one of the turning points. In that moment, Southampton were in incredible form.

"The process was we start to play better, more confident. We saw we were far away from the top of the league, then we get closer, the team eats better, trains better, we get results, successive wins.

"I know always you ask me about the past; what happened happened. I'm not a big fan of this. The next one is always important, like we have done in recent weeks."

Indeed, if City win the next one they will top the table for the first time this season - the ninth different team to reach the summit this term - with rivals Manchester United not in action until Wednesday.

"The leader is United - they are top of the league," Guardiola said. "We'll have all the games, the same games all together, we will see.

"But now we aren't top of the league. The distance is so narrow, but I don't see the table much; I didn't watch it when we were 12th, now it's the same. My focus after Cheltenham is West Bromwich."

Joe Root felt England's calmness under pressure was the key to securing victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka – but insisted there is still room for improvement ahead of the tour to India. 

England trailed after both teams had batted once in Galle, yet four wickets apiece for spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach helped turn the game their way. 

Sri Lanka rather self-destructed with the bat – something Root revealed the tourists had hoped to bring about by "creating a bit of chaos" - and left their opponents needing just 164 to seal a 2-0 series sweep. 

Dom Sibley anchored the chase, scoring 56 not out having managed only six runs combined in his three previous knocks, while Jos Buttler made an unbeaten 46 to help complete a six-wicket triumph. 

"It was a fine performance in this game. To come out on top having lost the toss on a wicket that, for the majority of the game, we had the worst part of is a testament to the character of the boys," Root said at the post-match presentation ceremony.

"In that second innings, at the back end, it was about dealing with pressure. I thought a number of guys in a very difficult run chase showed a lot of maturity, calmness and poise to see us home. It's a brilliant way to finish the series.

"When we came to bowl, it was about creating a bit of chaos, making it difficult for Sir Lanka to score boundaries.

"We knew if we could build pressure and try and really squeeze the game, we'd create opportunities on that surface. Thankfully, that worked out for us."

He added: "The one thing I'm proud of within our group is how calm we were; how clear we were over how we were going to score runs on that wicket in that chase."

England have little time to bask in their latest success, however, as they head on to India for a four-Test series. For Root, the aim is to keep on progressing during what is a hectic 2021 schedule.

Still, they have won five successive Test matches overseas for the first time since 1914, while they will be boosted by the return of Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes in India. Rory Burns is also available again; the opening batsman missed the Sri Lanka trip to be present for the birth of his first child.

"As a team, we are moving forward all the time. We are on a little bit of an upward curve and we've just got to keep on looking to get better," Root - who scored 426 runs in the series at an average of 106.5 - said.

"With four more Tests to come on this tour for us, it's really important we don't stand still. We are not happy with what we have achieved so far, we will keep looking to improve all the time. 

"There will be different challenges, different surfaces to deal with and situations to manage in the coming games, but can we have that same attitude, that same desire to want to improve all the time."

The England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed on Monday that New Zealand will visit in June, playing Root's side in Tests at Lord's and Edgbaston.

England will also play three Twenty20 fixtures and a trio of one-day games against Sri Lanka. 

Frank Lampard has been sacked as Chelsea head coach after 18 months in charge. 

The Blues great qualified for the Champions League and reached the FA Cup final in his first season at the helm but failed to build from a position of strength, departing in ninth in the Premier League despite significant spending in the transfer market. 

Defeat at Leicester City last week left Chelsea with just two wins from their past eight league games and, although he oversaw Sunday's FA Cup win over Luton Town, it proved sufficient to end Lampard's reign. 

That Leicester reverse was merely the latest sign Lampard was struggling as a young coach in a huge role, however. 

We look at five games from his tenure that suggested Lampard was not cut out for the top job at Stamford Bridge.


Chelsea 0-2 Southampton - December 2019

In the early days of Lampard's time in charge, Chelsea were a force to be reckoned with away from home, losing 4-0 at Manchester United on the opening day of the season but winning their next seven games on the road in all competitions. Bobby Campbell, in 1989, was the only previous Chelsea boss to oversee such a run.

But the Blues' problems persisted on home soil and were particularly evident over the course of a month late in 2019 when they lost to West Ham, Bournemouth and Southampton at Stamford Bridge. 

Defeat to Saints, just four days after a brilliant win at Tottenham, saw Chelsea lose consecutive home league matches for the first time since November 2011. 

Already their seventh top-flight loss of the campaign, there was little sign of progress, with Maurizio Sarri having only lost eight times in the entirety of the previous season. 

Chelsea 0-3 Bayern Munich - February 2020

Chelsea again got the better of Jose Mourinho's Spurs in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge, yet that victory was followed by another damaging home defeat, this time in the Champions League. 

The Blues met Bayern for the first time since their 2011-12 Champions League final triumph – when Lampard was captain – but were completely outclassed by the eventual title winners. 

The first leg of their last-16 tie saw Chelsea suffer their heaviest home European defeat, going down 3-0 to a Bayern team who had 16 attempts and bossed 63 per cent of the possession. 

The gap between Lampard's men and Europe's best was never more prominent.

Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea - August 2020

A testing first season, disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, could still have ended on a high had Lampard masterminded an FA Cup final victory over Arsenal. 

The Blues beat Liverpool, Leicester and United en route to the delayed August showpiece but came up short as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice in a 2-1 Arsenal success.

Unlike against Bayern, Chelsea had control of the ball with 60 per cent of the possession. However, they were out-shot 11-9 as the Gunners were clinical on the counter. 

Silverware last term might have given Lampard a firmer grasp on his role during the recent rocky patch.

Wolves 2-1 Chelsea - December 2020

Chelsea led the Premier League early in December having beaten Leeds United, but their season – and Lampard's tenure – really fell apart either side of Christmas. 

Having lost at Everton after facing Leeds, the Blues conceded a last-gasp winner to Wolves to suffer consecutive league defeats for the first time in a year. 

Lampard's side were poor at both ends of the pitch, failing to muster a single shot on target in the first half before being caught on the break in the 95th minute. 

The Chelsea coach told his players to "wake up to what this is about right now", but it was not a warning they heeded. 

Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea - December 2020

A scarcely deserved 3-0 win over West Ham appeared to get Chelsea back on track and they should then have been able to build some momentum against struggling Arsenal. 

But Mikel Arteta's side, winless in seven in the league, arrested their own slump in a deserved success as they took control with a flurry of goals either side of half-time. 

Chelsea had again been unable to test the opposition goalkeeper before the break and left it far too late to attempt to stage a comeback, scoring in the 85th minute through Tammy Abraham but then seeing Bernd Leno save Jorginho's penalty.

With defeats to Manchester City and Leicester following in the final weeks of Lampard's reign, this represented a huge missed opportunity to relieve pressure.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being absent for a prolonged period would be a problem for Arsenal but Mikel Arteta is expecting big things from Gabriel Martinelli.

Arsenal were without Aubameyang for their 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Southampton on Saturday after the Gabon international left the squad to attend to a personal matter.

Arteta was unsure how long the striker would be unavailable for, making him a doubt for the second straight game at St Mary's Stadium – this time a Premier League meeting on Tuesday.

Aubameyang has struggled for form this season, scoring eight goals – three of which have come in his past three appearances – and supplying one assist in 20 outings in all competitions

"Of course, it would be a problem [if he was out long term] because he's our top striker and the one who has scored the most goals," Arteta told a news conference.

"He's our captain and an important player in the team. We have to respect the time. Let's see. I don't have enough information right now to see how things are evolving and hopefully things will go in the right direction."

Martinelli made his first start in three and a half weeks against Saints after overcoming an ankle injury and was replaced just before the hour mark.

Arteta confirmed Martinelli had not suffered a setback and he expected the 19-year-old to really start producing for the team.

"He was fine, it was a tactical decision. He's missed a few training sessions from the last injury, but I expect big things from Gabi," said Arteta.

"He's been really helpful since he joined again after such a long period, so I'm really positive about him."

Arteta was impressed by Southampton's pressing in their FA Cup meeting and expects a similar challenge in their next meeting.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's team have the third-lowest opposition passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA) value in the Premier League this season at 10.9, indicating that only Liverpool (10.1) and Leeds United (8.9) press higher than them.

Furthermore, the average distance from their own goal that Saints' open play sequences start is 42.9 metres, with only Liverpool (44.4m) and Manchester City (45.4m) commencing sequences further up the pitch.

Arsenal, meanwhile, rank joint-11th in PPDA (13.8) and joint-sixth in average start distance (41.8m).

"We know they are one of the most effective teams in that [pressing] like we are," said Arteta.

"It was an intense game and we were expecting that for sure, and we are expecting that on Tuesday because they don't really change.

"They are a really great team, really good manager, they know exactly what they're doing and they've been doing it for years now, and they are good at it so we expect a similar game on Tuesday."

It did not take long for Chelsea to run out of patience with Frank Lampard following significant investment in their first-team squad during the close season.

Chelsea spent in excess of £200million on reinforcements for the 2020-21 campaign but with the club ninth in the Premier League and 11 points off top at the midway point, they dispensed with the services of their head coach on Monday.

Lampard arrived just 18 months ago with the club under a transfer embargo and was lauded for his faith in youth during a debut campaign that yielded a top-four finish and an FA Cup final appearance.

However, Chelsea have not managed to maintain an upward trajectory this season and after a run of two wins in eight Premier League games the decision was taken to cut ties with the club legend.

It is fair to say some of Chelsea's new arrivals have not lived up to expectations this term and we look at the numbers behind their performances.

Timo Werner – £45m from RB Leipzig

Werner arrived from Leipzig with big expectations having been involved in 36 league goals (26 scored, eight assisted) in 2019-20 – a tally only bettered by Robert Lewandowski (38), Ciro Immobile (45) and Lionel Messi (46).

He did not take long to find his stride, having a hand in 11 goals (eight scored, three assisted) in a 10-game stretch in all competitions between September and November.

However, the only goal he has scored in 15 appearances since the end of that streak came against Morecambe in the FA Cup third round – it ended an 827-minute drought in all competitions.

He is without a goal in 11 Premier League outings and his difficulties in front were compounded by his failure to convert from the penalty spot against Luton Town on Sunday.

 

Kai Havertz – £71m from Bayer Leverkusen

Alongside Werner (14) and Tammy Abraham (15), Havertz (10) is one of just three Chelsea players to have been involved in at least 10 goals in all competitions this season.

However, half of those have come against lower-league opposition – he scored the first hat-trick of his senior career against Barnsley in the EFL Cup in September, and versus Morecambe in the FA Cup this month had a goal and an assist.

When looking at his figures from the Premier League, he has just one goal and one assist in 16 appearances – 11 of which have come from the start.

Lampard seemed to struggle to figure out how to get the best out of versatile forward Havertz and given his price tag that will be high on the agenda for his replacement.

Ben Chilwell - £45m from Leicester City

A plantar fascia injury delayed Chilwell's Chelsea debut but he was quick to make an impact, becoming just the third Blues player to both score and assist on their Premier League debut, joining Deco and Alvaro Morata.

Within 13 games he had already matched his career best of four Premier League assists in a single season, while his six goal involvements in that time frame was the same as he managed across the entirety of 2019-20 for Leicester.

Crosses from the full-backs were a key part of Lampard's approach and Chilwell's 82 in open play is second to Reece James' 97.

But while 24.7 per cent of James' deliveries were accurate, only 13.4 of Chilwell's were - the third-worst rate of any Blues player to find a team-mate with at least one cross in open play.

Hakim Ziyech – £33.3m from Ajax

An assist for Werner in a pre-season friendly against Brighton provided promising signs, but a knee injury meant his competitive debut did not arrive until October.

He has registered two goals and four assists in 17 appearances in all competitions, but only Mason Mount (2.5) has created more chances per 90 minutes than Ziyech (2.4) this season (all comps).

Furthermore, he creates 0.8 Opta-defined 'big chances' per 90 minutes, which is the most of any Chelsea player to have featured in more than two games.

His expected assists in open play per 90 minutes of 0.21 ranks joint-seventh alongside Kevin De Bruyne (among players to have played at least 450 minutes), so with some better finishing his impact may look more impressive on paper.

 

Edouard Mendy – £22m from Rennes

After Kepa Arrizabalaga committed three errors leading to goals in as many Premier League appearances to start the season, bringing in Mendy from Rennes appeared an astute decision.

He kept nine clean sheets in his first 12 appearances in all competitions, but in his subsequent nine outings he has shut out the opposition just twice and conceded 13 goals.

In the Premier League, Mendy has let in 12 goals from an expected goals on target (xGOT) of 10.8, meaning he has let in one more goal than would have been anticipated from the chances he has faced.

That is the joint-eighth worst in the league among keepers to have played over 900 minutes.

 

Thiago Silva – free transfer

Although he became the first outfield player to make an error leading to a goal on their Premier League debut in two years when his loose control was seized upon by Callum Robinson in a 3-3 draw with West Brom in September, Silva's experience seemed to significantly improve Chelsea's defence.

Only Kurt Zouma (64.6 per cent) has a better duel success rate than Silva's 63.5 among players to have played at least 10 games in all competitions, and he has helped them tighten up when defending set-pieces.

Excluding goals scored directly from free-kicks, Chelsea conceded 13 times from set-pieces in the Premier League in 2019-20, while this term they have only shipped five from dead balls and one of those came when Silva was not in the side.

The Brazilian has also made them more of a threat from set-plays, providing two of the nine goals Chelsea have scored in such situations.

Tyronn Lue hailed Kawhi Leonard's performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder, acknowledging the Los Angeles Clippers had to "ride him pretty hard" to get the win.

Leonard stepped up with 34 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to drag the Clippers to a 108-100 triumph in Sunday's contest.

He became the fifth player in the franchise's history to register those numbers and the first since Ron Harper against the Golden State Warriors in March 1994.

The Clippers have now won seven straight games and hold the joint-best record in the NBA at 13-4.

With Paul George sitting out the closing minutes due to hamstring tightness, head coach Lue praised Leonard for stepping up.

"He's been phenomenal for us, tonight we had to ride him," he said.

"Kawhi had it going so we played through him a lot, especially in the second half. He created points for himself and for the team as well.

"We had to ride him pretty hard just so we could continue to keep the lead and play through him a lot, I think he did a good job with that."

George had 11 points from 33 minutes and Lue explained why he was not involved in the final stages.

"I benched him…I benched him!" Lue joked, before adding: "No, I'm just joking. He had some tightness going into the game tonight.

"He got loose when he played but had tightness, that last four and a half minutes he tightened up again so it was just a precaution. Just his hamstring."

The Clippers are flying in the NBA and Leonard offered his thoughts on why the team are firing.

"I think our three-point percentage, not allowing threes, making sure the other team isn't getting good looks from three-point line is helping us," he said.

"We're playing team basketball, sharing the ball, staying level-headed, staying positive, making shots right now. We're trying to get better."

Patrick Mahomes going up against Tom Brady is a prospect that should lead to a "heck of a football game" at Super Bowl LV, says Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

The legendary Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the showpiece in his first season with the team as they overcame the Green Bay Packers 31-26 in the NFC Championship Game.

Later on Sunday, superstar quarterback Mahomes guided the Chiefs to a second consecutive Super Bowl in a 38-24 triumph over the Buffalo Bills.

The thought of Brady, considered by many as the greatest QB of all time after winning six rings with New England Patriots, going up against Mahomes is an exciting one, not least for Chiefs coach Reid.

"Yeah, it seems like we've had a couple of those [Mahomes v Brady games] and every one of them is tremendous," Reid told reporters.

"I wouldn't expect this to be different, they got a tremendous team there. Those two have a lot of respect for each other, I remember when Tom came into the locker room after the championship game and spoke to Patrick, and Patrick responded like any young man would respond to the GOAT.

"We look forward to the opportunity to play, I know Pat does with Tom and I'm sure likewise Tom does with Pat. It should be a heck of a football game."

Mahomes completed 29 of 38 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns against the Bills and joined Kurt Warner, Brady and Russell Wilson as the only quarterbacks to reach the Super Bowl twice in their first four NFL seasons.

If the Chiefs are victorious, Mahomes will join Brady as the only QBs to win it twice in that span.

Asked what such achievements say about Mahomes, Reid replied: "You guys have seen him grow right in front of you.

"You're seeing the steps he's taking. I sit there, and I'm an old guy who's seen a lot of pretty good quarterbacks, and I sit there and think this guy seems to amaze me a little bit more every game.

"I'm proud of the way he handles it most of all. You guys aren't writing stories about this guy has a big head or this and that.

"He's not showing people up. No, he's about the team, he's all in, he works his tail off, he does it the right way, which is important for the longevity of his career and for the success of the Kansas City Chiefs and now for the Super Bowl."

Mahomes entered the game on the back of suffering a concussion in the Divisional Round win over the Cleveland Browns, and with question marks over a nasty-looking toe injury.

Reid added: "Listen, he came out and he practiced and did a great job all week.

"It was a limited basis early with the protocol he had to deal with, he kept positive with it, stayed positive with every part whether that was with the toe or head.

"I thought he and the trainers had a great plan for his toe. It was an amazing looking thing after the last game and how black and blue it was."

Reid said the magnitude of reaching back-to-back Super Bowls had not quite sunk in yet.

"I will [reflect] when I get about two seconds to sit down, I'm gonna sit there and I'm gonna go 'Dog darn, how about that?'" Reid added.

"But we got some work we gotta get done. We understand that, the guys understand that."

Liverpool's shock home defeat to Burnley was sort of emblematic of the odd times football, and indeed wider society, continues to live through.

The Reds had not suffered defeat in a Premier League fixture at Anfield since April 2017 – a staggering run of 68 home matches – prior to Ashley Barnes' penalty securing a famous three points for the Clarets.

It leaves Jurgen Klopp's defending champions six points adrift of the top at a time when rivals Manchester City and Manchester United – who beat the Reds in the FA Cup on Sunday – are absolutely flying.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic means this season has been another strange one, with congested schedules, hastily rearranged fixtures and empty stadia becoming the norm.

It has meant that the dominance City and Liverpool have had in their recent title wins has been difficult to replicate this term and thrown the race for the trophy wide open.

Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league season, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model - with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

CITY TRIUMPH WITHOUT THE DOMINANCE OF PAST TITLE WINS

The results in our model show City have an 82.1 per cent chance of winning the title, and doing so with 84 points. 

By recent standards that would represent a rather modest total. City won back-to-back titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the former seeing them rack up a competition record 100 points and following up with 98 in the latter.

Indeed, it would represent the lowest tally since Leicester City's famous triumph in 2015-16 when the Foxes earned 81, but there have been eight occasions of teams topping the table with fewer than 84.

City are on a 17-match unbeaten run across all competitions and if they can continue that form, Guardiola's serial winners will take some stopping.

UNITED PIP REDS AND SPURS TO SECOND AS FOXES SLIP AWAY

While the model tips City to ultimately win the title relatively comfortably, the "race for second" is certainly not clear cut.

According to our predictor, Manchester United – currently top of the table having played a game more than City – will fall off the title pace but still finish second on 75 points (a 40.2 per cent chance).

Liverpool are in a poor run of form but are tipped to recover from their recent malaise to secure a third-place finish on 73 (while the simulator still gives the Reds a 26 per cent chance for second and a five per cent shot at retaining the title).

Interestingly, Jose Mourinho's Tottenham side came fourth in our outcome on 70 points, three above Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City side who are only two adrift of United in the real-life table.

Frank Lampard's future at Chelsea is sure to face more scrutiny if a predicted finish of sixth, 22 points adrift of City, comes to fruition.

Everton, Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa completed the top 10 in the sim.

BLADES NOT THE WORST EVER AS BAGGIES, FULHAM HEAD BACK DOWN

It has been a miserable first half of the season for Sheffield United, who have taken only five points from 19 matches.

Should Chris Wilder's side replicate that over the next 19 they would record the lowest tally ever in a Premier League season.

Our predictor has the Blades finishing rock bottom, but fans can take some solace from the fact they are tipped to do so on 24 points. Indeed, our sim still gives them a three per cent chance of finishing 17th and a 0.1 per cent of the dizzying heights of 15th...hey, you never know!

The reading is no better for two sides promoted from the Championship last term in West Brom and Fulham.

Sam Allardyce was the man drafted in by the Baggies to replace Slaven Bilic and continue his record of never being relegated from the Premier League, but under this model West Brom are headed for a 19th-place finish on 26 points.

In our league, Fulham – promoted by the playoffs last term – pick up 28 and return immediately to the second tier as well. That would at least be two more than the 26 they gained when relegated in the 2018-19 campaign.

West Brom's chances of reaching 17th and survival are rated at just 5.6 per cent, while Fulham are given a little more hope at 11.2 per cent.

Brighton and Hove Albion (37), Newcastle United (41), Burnley (42) and Crystal Palace (44) are all tipped to safely beat the drop, while Leeds United – champions of the Championship last term – are predicted for a 12th-place finish and 49 points.

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