It wasn't the most celebrated or impactful trade of the Summer of 2019 – the newest gold banner that is waiting to be unveiled at the Staples Center answers that question.

Still, when browsing the current state of affairs in the Western Conference, it's hard to deny the significance of another deal that went down shortly after the franchise-defining blockbuster that landed Anthony Davis alongside LeBron James in Los Angeles and shifted the balance of power within the NBA.

With the aftershock of the Davis deal still reverberating, the Memphis Grizzlies were making a more under-the-radar move to set their own new course. Just days after the gigantic trade, Memphis sent the franchise's all-time leading scorer and arguably most popular player, Mike Conley, to the Utah Jazz, formally closing the door on the moderately successful 'Grit and Grind' era of the previous decade.

It's fair to say the trade is working out quite well for both teams, though. The Jazz presently sport the NBA's best record at 16-5 with Conley superbly manning the point following a somewhat trying first season in Salt Lake City. The Grizzlies currently stand as the surprise leader of a suspect Southwest Division and are seemingly well ahead of schedule on a rebuilding plan young general manager Zach Kleiman has so far orchestrated with a master stroke.

Memphis' swift rise to respectability was hard to see coming, and neither was the considerable effect so far generated by a trade centered around a player who has never made an All-Star team in 13 NBA seasons. That may change in Conley's 14th, however. The 33-year-old has been a major force on both ends of the court in what has been a terrific bounce-back campaign to date, as his 124.2 offensive rating is the highest of his career and his 2.35 steals per 48 minutes is his best mark since making the NBA All-Defensive Team in 2012-13. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, is how the Jazz have performed with Conley on the court as opposed to him off it. The veteran point guard's plus-minus rating of 11.0 per game trails only Clippers star Kawhi Leonard for the best in the league among players averaging at least 15 minutes per outing and who have appeared in at least half of their team's games, and the following chart illustrates how much better Utah has been when Conley is on the floor: 

JAZZ, WITH/WITHOUT MIKE CONLEY ON COURT, 2020-21 

With/Without stats (/100 = per 100 possessions) 

Points/100: 116.5/108.8 
Opp Points/100: 99.9/113.8 
Point Diff/100: +16.6/-5.0
FG Pct: .470/.444 
Opp FG Pct: .427/.475 
Turnovers/100: 13.4/16.6 

Conley's presence also allows Donovan Mitchell, Utah's leading scorer and their highest usage player, to play more off the ball where he is most effective, as the numbers demonstrate: 

DONOVAN MITCHELL, WITH/WITHOUT MIKE CONLEY ON COURT, 2020-21 

With/Without stats (/100 = per 100 possessions) 

Points/100: 35.0/32.9 
Rebounds/100: 6.8/5.5 
Assists/100: 5.4/8.1 
Turnovers/100: 3.5/5.7 
FG Pct: .451/.409 
3-Pt Pct: .446/.343 

With Conley playing at an elite level and a pair of All-Stars in Mitchell and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the question can now be raised: Have the Jazz finally achieved the status of a legitimate challenger to the West's upper crust after four years of consistently winning in the regular season but never seriously threatening in the playoffs? 

Quite possibly. 

The Jazz are the only team that currently ranks in the NBA's top five in both offensive and defensive rating. They have never finished a season higher than ninth in the former category under coach Quin Snyder, but there is reason to believe this team differs from its predecessors. It has been hitting 3-pointers at a historic rate (16.9 per game) with both impressive efficiency (39.8 percent) and variety. Six of the Jazz's top seven scorers are shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the arc while taking at least four attempts per game, the most in the league. 

Only one team in NBA history has shot 40 percent or better from 3-point range while making 12 or more 3s per game, and that is the 2015-16 Warriors that set an NBA record with 73 regular-season wins. Granted, there are three other teams that currently fall under that category this season, and they are all pretty good as well: The Clippers, Bucks and Nets. 

So, we have discussed how the Conley trade has benefited the Jazz. How about the Grizzlies, who received Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, a 2019 first-round pick and a future first-rounder in the deal? 

Korver was immediately traded to Phoenix in a swap that brought back De'Anthony Melton, Memphis' best wing defender, and a 2020 second-round pick that turned into center Xavier Tillman, who has quickly emerged as a solid rotational piece as a rookie.

Crowder was later shipped to Miami, with capable veteran Gorgui Dieng and the still-injured Justise Winslow the return.

Last year's first-rounder was ultimately used on Brandon Clarke, one of only five players from the 2019 class to average 12 points and 5.5 rebounds per game through his first season-plus.

All told, that is five viable contributors (Clarke, Allen, Dieng, Melton, Tillman) and a possible sixth if Winslow can ever get healthy. And Melton may have a chance to be something more than that if he continues to make strides with his still-developing shot.

And we have yet to mention the primary motive for moving Conley, which was to clear a path at the point guard spot for the electric Ja Morant. Though Memphis was able to go 4-4 in the eight games the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year missed with a sprained ankle earlier this season thanks to the enviable depth Kleiman has assembled, there is no question the Grizzlies are a more dangerous team with the 2019 No. 2 overall pick in the lineup.

Here are the numbers to back it up: The Grizzlies average 117.4 points with him, compared to 103.1 in his absence. Their field goal percentage (.479 compared to .451) and 3-point percentage (.381 compared to .331) are also unsurprisingly better, while the turnovers drop by just over one per game (13.5 with him, 14.9 without).

If the Grizzlies could maintain that points-per-game average throughout the season, they would rank third in the league behind only the power-laden Nets and Bucks. Combine it with their other strengths, an opportunistic defense that leads the NBA in steals per game and a rotation that boasts a league-high 11 players averaging 8.0 points or more (min. 50 percent of team’s games played), and it is no stretch to proclaim they will be a formidable playoff foe for any team should they get in – especially if budding star Jaren Jackson Jr. makes it back from the knee injury that has sidelined him all season thus far. 

Memphis are still not ready to realistically threaten the league's championship contenders, but there is a lot to like about this team going forward. The Grizzlies have one bona fide star in Morant, a potential second in Jackson and a young and promising supporting cast – most of whom are under contract for at least two more years. They are also set up to be flush in cap space and a potential dark horse player in free agency come the 2021 offseason.

The Grizzlies have the NBA's third-youngest roster, its youngest GM in Kleiman and third-youngest head coach in 36-year-old Taylor Jenkins. It looks like their rebuild is maturing beyond its years , too.

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets meet for the first time since last season's Western Conference Finals on Thursday.

A 4-1 series win for the Lakers paved the way for the franchise to win their first NBA championship since 2010 and they are the favourites to repeat the feat this season.

After a gruelling two-week road trip in which they went 5-2, they will be back in the familiar surroundings of Staples Center to start a five-game home stand.

The Lakers are 4-4 on their home court this season and the Nuggets have only dropped three of their 10 road games, while LeBron James and Nikola Jokic have started the campaign in form befitting MVP candidates.

The stage is set for an intriguing battle between two of the West's heavyweights.

 

TOP PERFORMERS

LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers

An average of 25 points per game may not be on a par with previous prolific seasons, but James is enjoying a career year from beyond the arc.

He is shooting at 40.9 per cent from three-point range and is averaging over twice as many attempts per game (6.8 compared to 3.3) as when he set his previous high of 40.6 per cent in the 2012-13 season.

He has improved from downtown year on year with the Lakers but operates at 27.1 per cent from three against the Nuggets since his arrival in Los Angeles in 2018. He only made more than one three-pointer in one of their Western Conference Finals meetings last season.

Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets

Denver's Serbian center has made an incredible start to the 2020-21 season.

While tying his career high of 47 points and ending the Utah Jazz's 11-game winning streak, he registered his 20th straight double-double to start the season – Bill Walton is the only other player to have achieved that feat, though he went on to record 34 straight in the 1976-77 season.

The last team to deny him a double-double? That's right, it was the Lakers. Jokic only had one double-double in the Nuggets' 4-1 series loss to the Lakers in the bubble.

KEY BATTLE: CONTROL OF THE PAINT

Only Zion Williamson (173), Giannis Antetokounmpo (165) and Domantas Sabonis (157) have made more field goals in the paint than Jokic this season, with the centre averaging 14.8 points per game in the key.

However, for the Lakers, Anthony Davis and LeBron have each made 111 field goals in the paint, while Montrezl Harrell also places inside the top 20 with 107.

Through Davis and James alone the Lakers average 21.8 points per game in the paint and the former shoots at 69.8 per cent in that area – better than Jokic's 65.2 success rate and the fifth best in the NBA among players to have attempted at least 100 such shots.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Nuggets have only won four of their 12 meetings with the Lakers in the regular season and playoffs since LeBron arrived at Staples Center.

Davis has particularly enjoyed playing against Denver since becoming a Laker too, averaging 30.3 points and 7.6 assists across nine meetings with the Nuggets. The only side he has averaged more points against in the same time frame – with a minimum of two games played – is his former team the New Orleans Pelicans (31.3).

Denver will therefore likely need Jamal Murray to shine alongside Jokic. However, he had one of his worst games over the past two seasons against the Lakers December 2019, when he had just six points on 3-of-17 shooting. Only once has he scored fewer in at least 24 minutes on the floor – he had four points against the Brooklyn Nets a month prior.

An NFL season unlike any other concludes on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet in a Super Bowl with a difference.  

The Bucs have home advantage as they bid to make history – no team has ever before played for the Lombardi Trophy in their own stadium – but there will be no full house present to watch the action unfold. In a campaign shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, there will be more cardboard cut-outs in attendance than real fans.   

As for the game itself, Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes is box office viewing. Both have supporting casts that can accentuate their talent, giving us a battle between two quarterbacks at opposite ends of their NFL careers but with the same goal: Win one more ring.   

Then there are the head coaches. Andy Reid, who couldn't win the big games, until he actually did. Bruce Arians, who retired from coaching, until he came back. They have continued to work through unprecedented times in the league, where protocols have dictated daily schedules and the only talk of two-a-days referred to COVID-19 testing, rather than practices.    

Adapting to their specific situations has been the key to getting this far, according to former NFL head coach Brian Billick, now working for NFL Media. 

"They evolve, they do what their players do best," Billick said on a conference call. "Certainly, Andy Reid has morphed that offense around Patrick Mahomes. He's been able to adapt exactly to the talents. 

"Bruce Arians is the same way, the things that he's doing with the experience of Tom Brady and the big play presence on the outside. They adapt, specifically to the type of players that they have around them."

After starting out in the NFL in a number of roles with Green Bay, Reid had success in charge of the Philadelphia Eagles – he remains top of their all-time list for wins - without ever managing to secure the franchise a first Super Bowl. The narrative of coming up short in the postseason continued in Kansas City, but eventually – thanks to a fourth-quarter comeback – he got over the hump.   

The Super Bowl triumph in 2020 ended any suggestion that Reid's Hall-of-Fame career required a ring for validation. Since then, he has appeared to be playing with house money.   

Depending on what unfolds on the field this weekend, the fourth-down call against the Cleveland Browns may well remain the lasting memory of this playoff run for Kansas City. Minus Mahomes and defending a five-point lead late in the game, a hard count by stand-in quarterback Chad Henne seemed the prelude to a punt. 

Hold what you have and hope to hang on, right? Not for Reid, who went all in. 

Knowing a first down would seal victory and a place in the AFC Championship Game, he allowed Henne to snap the ball while in the shotgun, wait briefly for Tyreek Hill to break on his shallow route and then fire in a pass to the wide receiver. The risk was great, but so too was the reward.  

Had Arians been in a similar situation, he too may have gone for it. A cancer survivor, the 68-year-old is known for his "No risk it, no biscuit" way of thinking, both in terms of his coaching philosophy and life in general.  

The Buccaneers certainly pushed all their chips into the middle of the table for this season, too. The seemingly unthinkable became reality when Brady walked away from the New England Patriots to start afresh in 'Tompa Bay', a move that tempted the retired Rob Gronkowski to put away the wrestling pants and don the football pads again. 

There were teething problems, as to be expected, yet Arians always insisted the team was learning on the fly, adjusting from week to week with a new starting quarterback – even one as good as Brady. 

However, the Bucs have been on a roll since their bye week. Four straight victories in which they amassed a combined total of 148 points to finish the regular season were followed by playoff triumphs on the road in Washington, New Orleans – who had previously beaten them twice – and then finally Green Bay.  

Arians went close to making a Super Bowl in his previous head coaching job in Arizona, losing in the NFC Championship Game. When he left in 2017, his future appeared to be in television working as an analyst.  

Then the Bucs called. 

Convincing both him and his wife Christine that it was the right move, he made a comeback. The arrival of Brady for his second season in charge changed the timeline, requiring Arians to use his man-management skills - "I'm not a father figure. I'm the cool uncle you'd like to have a drink with" - to bring it all together. 

The presence of a great quarterback on the rosters for both franchises should not overshadow what their coaches have achieved. Arians has ironed out the wrinkles in time while allowing Brady to turn back the clock in terms of airing the ball out. Reid's biggest issue in the regular season seemed to be finding a suitable face mask to wear, yet he could still see how to put Mahomes in situations that allowed him to dazzle.  

Arians and Reid have prevailed in hugely different circumstances but with the same positive outlook. Despite all that is on the line, you should expect both to be ready to gamble in the bid for glory. 

Joe Root is used to reaching milestones, but the batsman will bring up a special Test century when he leads England in the series opener against India.  

For Root, the game in Chennai – the first of four in the series – will see him make his 100th Test appearance. He will become just the 15th Englishman to get to the landmark in the format and the 69th overall. 

The fresh-faced 21-year-old who made his debut in India in 2012 is now a fresh-faced 30-year-old considered one of the best in the world, with his memories of that maiden outing still helping to shape the player he is.

"Walking out for the first time in an England shirt would probably be the proudest moment," he said.

"I look back at walking out to bat and seeing Kevin Pietersen at the other end, someone I watched as a teenager and as a kid growing up, and I just couldn't stop smiling. I was living my childhood dream and have been ever since.

"Whenever I'm going through a lean spell or things aren't quite falling for me, I try to look back at that moment and remember what that feeling was like – almost try and embrace that really excitable young lad and bring that into the current situation."

THE HIGHS AND LOWS AHEAD OF A BUSY YEAR 

To say 2021 will be a busy year for Root is an understatement. While not currently part of England's plans in Twenty20 cricket, meaning he seems set to miss out on the World Cup in India in October and November, there is plenty on the Test captain's plate.  

The tour to India will see England play four of their scheduled 17 Tests across the calendar year, a schedule that includes a home series against the same opponents, the visit of ICC Test Championship finalists New Zealand and, after that busy summer, the small matter of an Ashes tour.  

He made an outstanding start with 426 runs on the recent tour of Sri Lanka, helping England secure a 2-0 series sweep that extended their winning streak overseas to five matches, their best run away since 1914.  

Yet Root went into that tour off the back of a below-par year. His top score in 2020 was 68, though he still finished with an average of 42.2, narrowly better than 2018 (41.2) and 2019 (37). The right-hander managed as many three-figure scores in January as he recorded across the previous two years combined.  

If England are to prosper on what will undoubtedly be a long and tough road ahead, Root will need to lead from the front. Captaincy has seen his batting numbers suffer – he averages 45.7 as skipper, compared to 52.8 beforehand – but the signs are some tinkering during time off has allowed him to rediscover his best form at just the right time.

RUNS ON TOUR, FANTASTIC AT FOUR 

India has been a happy destination for Root on previous trips, including hitting 124 in the drawn series opener on the 2016 tour. It was also the country where he made his Test bow, four years earlier. Batting at six, an innings of 73 offered a demonstration of his undoubted skill. 

The Yorkshireman has had plenty of other good moments against India: they are one of five opposing nations he has scored over 1,000 Test runs against. Only Alastair Cook (seven) has managed it against more countries for England.  

Australia is also on that list for Root, who will be hoping to improve on a career average of 38 when he heads Down Under again later this year. His first tour there in 2013-14 was particularly tough, with a run of low scores leading to him being left out of the XI in Sydney. It was a rare low point, while also serving as motivation to make sure it never happened again.  

His 2017-18 tour was more productive, albeit without a three-figure score. Conversion rates are often used as a measurement when comparing the leading names, and Root’s numbers – 19 centuries but 49 scores between 50 and 99 – have been used against him when held up alongside Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson.  

The needs of the team have seen him moved up and down the order, away from his favoured place at four. That position has seen him score 10 of his Test hundreds, while only Kevin Pietersen (6,490) and Denis Compton (4,234) have amassed more runs when occupying that spot for England.  

"I know previous captains have preferred to get out there early and just get amongst it but I quite like to split the two and to really focus on my batting," he said in November 2019 during a tour to New Zealand. "I've found over time that, generally, I've consistently played better in that position."  

The numbers back up his statement; Root has a 52.2 average when listed at four in the batting order. Only at five (69.1) has he done better, albeit with a far smaller sample size.

ENGLAND EXPECTS AND THE PURSUIT OF TENDULKAR 

During his brilliant double hundred in the first Test in Sri Lanka, Root became the seventh Englishman to reach 8,000 runs in the format.   

By the end of the trip, he had moved past Geoffrey Boycott, Pietersen and David Gower on the all-time run-scoring list for his country – and it is unlikely he will have to wait long to overtake two more legendary names.  

Root’s tally after 99 Tests stands at 8,249 runs. Alec Stewart (8,463) and Graham Gooch (8,900) are firmly in his sights, particularly when you consider the number of games to come this year.  

However, Cook is well clear at the top. The opening batsman and former skipper finished with 12,472 runs in 161 appearances. Only four men in the history of the game have managed more, Sachin Tendulkar (15,921 runs in 200 Tests) leading the way.  

Could Root potentially chase Tendulkar down? He is about to hit the halfway point in terms of number of games in the head-to-head comparison, yet is ahead of schedule in terms of output. He has only missed two Test matches since his debut, while a decision at some stage along the line to focus solely on the longest format of the game could extend his Test career even further. 

Such talk of individual records is likely to be of little concern for the man himself, though. Reaching 100 Tests is an impressive achievement for Root, who will hope it is not his last century in the months to come. 

Tottenham have generally enjoyed playing Chelsea this season. A penalty shoot-out win in September saw them progress in an EFL Cup tie, while October's 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge took them top of the Premier League. 

Yet Jose Mourinho's men head into Thursday's clash with a little trepidation. After back-to-back defeats and just one win in four in the league, and with Chelsea playing largely without pressure as they get to grips with life under new boss Thomas Tuchel, the onus is on Spurs to deliver and underline their credentials as top-four contenders. 

With Harry Kane injured and Son Heung-min without a goal in six games, getting three points looks far from straightforward. There is, however, an unlikely Mourinho acolyte who could lead the charge at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. 

Tanguy Ndombele has gone from peripheral irritant to midfield centrepiece at Spurs, sustaining his good form even during the recent downbeat run. It's a transformation few saw coming, but it has been hugely welcome to Mourinho, who has been unable to coax form out of Gareth Bale and apparently unwilling to try with Dele Alli but has talked of Ndombele's "big evolution" in recent months. 

So, what's changed?

A PASSING FANCY?

Ndombele has made 27 appearances in all competitions this season, with 21 of those as a starter. He has scored six goals and assisted three; only Lucas Moura (10), Son (26) and Kane (33) have had more direct goal involvements. 

At the same stage of last season, when Spurs were also sixth in the league but three points worse off, Ndombele had scored two and set up three goals in only 13 starts. There were seven team-mates with more goal involvements. 

This term, the France international is third for chances created from open play (20), third for completed passes in the opponents' half (540) and third for completed passes ending in the final third (245). Still, on average, these numbers have actually diminished slightly since last season. 

Ndombele has created just over one chance per 90 minutes from open play in 2020-21, a drop of more than 0.5 since this stage of 2019-20. He has also slipped in successful passes in the opposition half per 90 minutes (29.6 from 32.4) and completed passes ending in the final third (13.4 from 15.3). His per-90 average for successful tackles and duels shows negligible change, so it's not as though he is being tasked with more defensive work at the expense of attacking abandon, either. 

Besides, few would argue Ndombele is not enjoying his best spell since his reported €62million switch from Lyon. As former Spurs midfielder Gustavo Poyet told Stats Perform News: "It looks like it was not a feeling of him being part of a [Jose] Mourinho team. It was like a conflict in there of ideas. 

"But it looks to me that this year, after pre-season, Ndombele understands his role perfectly, is playing in a more advanced position, and is really affecting the game in an incredible way." 

So, what is it that he's doing so well?

RUNNING RIOT

Put simply, he runs with the ball and makes things happen. 

Ndombele has attempted (56) and completed (41) take-ons, the most by any Spurs player this season. Indeed, Kane, who is second on that list, has only completed 26. Notably, 34 of Ndombele's completed take-ons have come in the opposition half, reflecting his advanced role. 

Mourinho appears to have identified Ndombele has a previously underused weapon – he was only sixth for attempted dribbles at this stage last season – and encouraged him to be bold.  

This season, Ndombele is third among Spurs players for ball carries – where a player moves five metres or more in possession – on 174, but 21 of those instances have ended in a take-on, which is seven more than any team-mate. Similarly, five carries have ended in a chance created, a figure bettered only by Son (eight) and Kane (10). 

Ndombele has managed not only to win back the trust of one of the world's most demanding coaches, he has done it by filling a role vacated by Christian Eriksen and the out-of-favour Alli and developed it in his own style. Little wonder Poyet believes he is helping Spurs "go to another level". 

The Uruguayan says, in all likelihood: "Mourinho was trying to convince him [Ndombele] last year about certain players getting [settled] very quickly and certain players need a little bit more time. 

"Because let's remember in that position we were used to seeing Eriksen or Dele Alli and now we see Ndombele most of the time, so it's a very good story and he could be a key player for them." 

Manchester United matched their own record for the biggest home win in Premier League history as Southampton suffered the unprecedented ignominy of 9-0 defeats in consecutive seasons.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's men saw their outing at Old Trafford unravel from the moment Alexandre Jankewitz was shown a second-minute red card for an ugly lunge on Scott McTominay.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka began the rout and efforts from Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani either side of a Jan Bednarek own goal made it 4-0 at half-time.

Anthony Martial and McTominay made it 6-0 inside the final 20 minutes before a Bruno Fernandes penalty, Martial's second and a closing goal from Daniel James left Southampton – who also saw Bednarek sent off – in an unsightly heap.

From nine goals to nine men, Arsenal had David Luiz and Bernd Leno dismissed as they lost 2-1 at Wolves.

That scoreline was repeated in victories for Sheffield United and Crystal Palace that could have repercussions at the bottom of the table.

Manchester United 9-0 Southampton: Record-equalling joy and despair at Old Trafford

James' goal deep into stoppage time meant United won 9-0 for the first time since thrashing Ipswich Town in March 1995. It is only the third instance of this scoreline in the Premier League, following Southampton's thrashing on home turf against Leicester City in October 2019.

This fixture is not always anything like as kind to United. In fact, they have won home and away against Saints for the first time since 2012-13 – the last time they lifted the title.

Southampton's fourth consecutive Premier League defeat is also their biggest ever away loss in any competition.

United's efforts to share the goals around, with only Martial hitting a brace, means they are the second side to have seven different scorers in a Premier League match following Chelsea against Aston Villa in December 2012.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has seen his side utterly transform their home performances. They won only one of six at Old Trafford at the start of this league season, scoring three times. A run of four wins out of five, with one defeat, has yielded 19 goals.

The late flurry was aided by Bednarek adding a red card to his own goal, while it could have been so different were it not for Jankewitz's rash tackle. The teenager is the first player to be sent off on his first Premier League start since Serge Aurier for Tottenham in September 2017 and the fourth man to be dismissed inside two minutes in a Premier League game.

Wolves 2-1 Arsenal: David Luiz and Leno leave Arteta's men short

Arsenal took a deserved lead at Molineux through Nicolas Pepe, who now has three goals in his past four league starts – as many as he managed on his previous 16 starts.

Mikel Arteta says he will appeal David Luiz's punishment but the Brazilian defender's foul on Willian Jose means he has been sent off three times and conceded six penalties since his Arsenal debut in August 2019, more than any other player in the division during that time.

Ruben Neves converted from the spot before fellow Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho hammered in a fabulous 30-yard effort. Very much a collectors' item, it was the first home goal of his Wolves career at the 61st attempt.

When Leno charged from his area to handball in a wretched misjudgement, Wolves' first league double over Arsenal since 1978-79 was virtually assured and the Germany international became the second Gunners keeper to be sent off in the Premier League – and the first since David Seaman against West Ham back in 1993.

Whether largely down to indiscipline or misfortune, Arsenal have been shown nine red cards since Arteta took charge on Boxing Day 2019 – six more than any other side.

Sheffield United 2-1 West Brom: Blades sharpen survival chances

Bottom club Sheffield United are now just a point behind West Brom in 19th, even though they fell behind to Matt Phillips' close-range finish before half-time.

Phillips has now found the net in each of the past 13 seasons in English league football, a run that goes back to 2008-09.

Jayden Bogle brought the hosts level before captain Billy Sharp stepped up to net another crucial goal.

Since Chris Wilder's first game in charge of United in August 2016, Sharp has scored 76 goals in all competitions – 44 more than any other Blades player during that period.

Sam Allardyce's much-vaunted reputation for making his teams hard to beat is not doing West Brom much good at the moment. The Baggies have conceded 26 goals in nine Premier League games under the ex-England boss, as many as they let in during 13 matches under Slaven Bilic this term.

Newcastle United 1-2 Crystal Palace: Eagles soar clear of trouble

Newcastle remain eight points above the drop zone but are now seven shy of Palace, despite enjoying a dream start.

Jonjo Shelvey's long-ranger after 71 seconds was the quickest goal the Eagles have conceded in a Premier League match since Ian Taylor scored for Aston Villa inside a minute in March 1998.

Roy Hodgson's side had not won away from home after conceding first since overcoming West Ham in October 2019, drawing two and losing 12 of such games since.

But Jairo Riedewald's venomous hit saw them level in style as he ended a run of 13 games without a goal in the Premier League.

Gary Cahill then became Crystal Palace's oldest ever goalscorer in the Premier League at 35 years and 45 days. He is also the oldest Englishman to score in the Premier League at St James' Park since Alan Shearer last did so.

Poor, poor Southampton.

For all the progress Ralph Hasenhuttl has made since their October 2019 mauling at the hands of Leicester City, here they are again. 9-0. Again.

Manchester United made hay at Old Trafford, reigniting their Premier League title bid by equalling the competition's all-time largest winning margin - the second time the 20-time English champions have accomplished the feat, albeit with a near 26-year gap.

Saints' teenage debutant Alexandre Jankewitz was sent off in the second minute and it got unimaginably worse or implausibly better from there, depending on your point of view.

Here, we look back at the times one-sided encounters in England's top flight have spun wildly out of control.

Manchester United 9-0 Southampton - February 2, 2021

After Jankewitz was dismissed for a shocking studs-up lunge on Scott McTominay, Hasenhuttl perhaps should have checked the date and feared the worst. February 2 is Groundhog Day. Aaron Wan-Bissaka got United off and running in the 18th minute, with Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani more familiar sights on the scoresheet either side of a Jan Bednarek own goal. Anthony Martial came on at half-time, but even after he scored in the 69th minute and McTominay did shortly afterwards, the game could have meandered towards a conclusion. Instead, the roof fell in on Southampton as they crumpled entirely under late strikes from Martial and Dan James after a Bruno Fernandes penalty and a red card for Bednarek.

Southampton 0-9 Leicester City – October 25, 2019

Ryan Bertrand - one of seven Southampton players to feature in both 9-0s - was the Jankewitz of the piece as he was sent off for a challenge in the build-up to Ben Chilwell's 10th-minute opener. Youri Tielemans was granted ample room to double the lead, then Ayoze Perez began romping towards a hat-trick that he completed a minute before Jamie Vardy's headed second made it 7-0 in the 58th minute. A James Maddison free-kick and a Vardy penalty took this defeat into uncharted territory for a home side in the Premier League.

Manchester United 9-0 Ipswich Town – March 4, 1995

For nearly a quarter of a century, Alex Ferguson's United were out there on their own. Andy Cole scored five after Roy Keane began this rout in the 15th minute. Mark Hughes hit a quickfire second-half double and Paul Ince also got in on the act. Peter Schmeichel watched it all unfold from the other end, just as his son Kasper did in goal for Leicester at St Mary's all those years later.

Tottenham 9-1 Wigan Athletic – November 22, 2009

Wigan had a slither of hope when Paul Scharner pulled a goal back to make it 3-1 before the hour at White Hart Lane. Ultimately, the only significance of that strike was to keep them off the top of this list. Jermain Defoe did his best Cole impression, rattling in five goals from the 51st minute onwards, while Aaron Lennon, David Bentley and Nico Kranjcar piled on the pain. Remarkably, Peter Crouch's ninth-minute header was the only goal of the 10 scored before half-time.

That same season, Wigan lost 8-0 at Chelsea, who beat Aston Villa by the same margin at Stamford Bridge two years later. Newcastle United claimed the division's first 8-0 scoreline at the expense of Sheffield Wednesday in 1999, with Alan Shearer scoring five.

Southampton 8-0 Sunderland – October 18, 2014

The St Mary's faithful at least know what it feels like to be on the joyous end of what they have endured in the past two seasons. The boot was definitely on the other foot here, although what exactly Sunderland defender Santiago Vergini and his boots were trying to achieve when he inexplicably walloped into his own net after 12 minutes remains anyone's guess. Graziano Pelle scored the first of a double six minutes later. Jack Cork, Dusan Tadic and Victor Wanyama also netted, with Patrick van Aanholt and Liam Bridcutt joining Vergini in putting through their own goal.

Manchester City 8-0 Watford – September 21, 2019

When City raced into a 5-0 lead inside 18 minutes against Watford last season, double figures looked to be on the cards for the first time in the Premier League era. David Silva netted from close range inside a minute, with Riyad Mahrez winning a penalty for Sergio Aguero before scoring himself. Bernardo Silva opened his tally on the way to a hat-trick, with Nicolas Otamendi a more unlikely first-half goalscorer. Kevin De Bruyne masterfully orchestrated the destruction of a side City demolished 6-0 four months earlier in the FA Cup final and wrapped up the scoring with an emphatic strike into the top corner.

Nottingham Forest 1 Manchester United 8 – February 6, 1999

The biggest away win the Premier League had seen until Leicester went about their savagery. This seemed fairly standard stuff for Alex Ferguson's majestic treble-winning side as Dwight Yorke and Cole both scored twice against an overmatched Forest, who would finish the season bottom of the table. Standard, that was, until Ole Gunnar Solskjaer emerged from the bench and pilfered four goals in the final 11 minutes at the City Ground. Apparently, he has passed on the wisdom of targeting flurries of late goals against bedraggled opponents.

Antonio Conte muttered to himself and looked rather resigned as Arturo Vidal angrily gestured towards him while being replaced by Christian Eriksen on Tuesday. Perhaps he realised his errors had already done irreparable damage.

Juventus went on to put one foot in the Coppa Italia final with a 2-1 win at Inter in their semi-final first leg, with Conte seemingly made to rue a tactical set-up that invited pressure in the absence of talisman Romelu Lukaku.

While Inter's second-half display in San Siro showed evidence of Conte wising up to his team's problems, it was too little, too late as the Nerazzurri were unable to rescue a game lost in the first half.

A chief component of Inter's struggles here was rooted in last week's quarter-final win over bitter rivals Milan, as Lukaku's much-discussed altercation with Zlatan Ibrahimovic resulted in a yellow card for the Belgian.

The pair went head-to-head in ugly scenes that were accentuated by the lack of a crowd, every word of Ibrahimovic's questionable antagonising audible thanks to the television cameras and microphones.

Whether Lukaku's reaction was justified is a discussion for another day, but beyond doubt is the fact he was sorely missed by Conte's men, whose lack of an out-ball left them without options.

Alexis Sanchez, who ultimately remained with Inter at the end of the transfer window despite links to Roma, was the man chosen to partner Lautaro Martinez and the Chilean initially showed reason for optimism.

After holding the ball up admirably and working space on the break in the ninth minute, Sanchez fed Nicolo Barella up the right flank and his low cross was turned home by Martinez – his shot creeping under the hand of Gianluigi Buffon's hand.

It wasn't the ideal way to celebrate the 43-year-old's 1,100th professional game, but the Inter defence ensured the spotlight wouldn't be on Buffon's error for long.

First, Ashley Young took centre stage a little over 15 minutes later, bizarrely opting to haul back Juan Cuadrado in the box despite Federico Bernardeschi's cross always looking incapable of doing any damage, and Ronaldo slammed the resulting penalty right down the middle.

Ronaldo then capitalised on a mix-up between Alessandro Bastoni and Samir Handanovic, robbing the defender and slotting in from a tight angle outside of the box with the goalkeeper stranded.

Inter dug their own hole with their poor decision-making, and without Lukaku they were without the means to haul themselves out.

Neither Young nor Matteo Darmian on the flanks – the latter in for the absent Achraf Hakimi – could offer any kind of attacking support in the first half, with both failing to deliver a single cross before the interval.

Then, with Sanchez and Martinez largely unable to impose themselves against the physically dominant Merih Demiral and Matthijs de Ligt, Inter's options when looking to move out from the back were minimal.

And that was another issue – in the first half, Inter were very deep and endured great difficulty trying to play through Juve's press. It might have been effective with players potentially trying to get in behind the visitors' defence, but Andrea Pirlo's side subjugated their hosts virtually throughout the opening half.

Conte's tweaks at the break saw Inter's backline move further up the pitch and that certainly seemed to improve their standing in the match – Juve's share of the possession going from 63 per cent in the first half to just 40 in the second.

Similarly, Inter's shot count rocketed from two at half-time to 11 at the end, and, to be fair, Sanchez should have taken one of those when his goal-bound effort was stopped on the line by Demiral.

Additionally, Buffon made amends for his first-half error by making a crucial stop to deny Darmian, but otherwise there were few moments when Juve looked especially worried defensively.

On another day perhaps Inter would have done enough to at least keep themselves on level terms ahead of the second leg, but Conte's negative set-up left them at a disadvantage right from the off.

Lukaku will return for the next game, but Juve's away goals advantage gives them a significant edge – Conte has much work to do.

It's the man who has defined the last two decades in the NFL versus the man most likely to cast a considerable shadow over the 2020s in Super Bowl LV: Tom Brady will look to add to his remarkable legacy against a quarterback well placed to live up to it in Patrick Mahomes.

There are, of course, several other subplots to consider in the first Super Bowl to see a team play in its home stadium. Yet the overriding narrative in Sunday's matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium surrounds the two men under center and the significant contrast between them.

At 43, Brady is the man who continues to defy the odds, casting himself free from the shackles of the Patriots' talent-starved offense to find new life with Tampa, proving he can still methodically dissect defenses and, when necessary, hit members of his star-studded cast of receivers with the deep pass.

It is Mahomes, however, who will be expected to provide the explosiveness in this battle of old versus still relatively new. Like Brady, Mahomes can carve teams up from the pocket, but what makes him so difficult to defend is his ability to connect on otherworldly passes when throwing off-platform and when on the run, taking a flair for improvisation to levels never before seen in the NFL.

The stage is set for a fascinating battle between two players who have each left indelible marks on the game, but how do their numbers stack up? Ahead of a potentially captivating end to a season like no other, we compared the data on the two men who will be centre stage as the destination of the Lombardi Trophy is decided.

Brady's wide lead

Given his significantly greater experience, his scarcely believable longevity and unparalleled success, it is no surprise that the counting stats overwhelmingly favour Brady.

Brady has 47 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter in the regular season compared to seven for Mahomes. In the postseason, Brady's advantage in that area is 14-1.

The New England Patriots legend has 33 playoff wins to seven for Mahomes, who should rapidly improve on that tally if his early career success continues.

Brady has racked up 44 touchdown throws of 50 yards or more, with Mahomes having put up 12 across his three regular seasons as a starter.

However, Mahomes already has half as many 400-yard regular-season games as the 10 Brady has in his career. He is a third of the way there in terms of drawing level in games with at least four touchdown passes, Mahomes having produced 11 such performances with Brady on 33.

And there are several other areas in which Mahomes has already closed the gap.

Mahomes' early-career magic

Illustrative of the incredibly high level of play Mahomes has reached and maintained during his time as a starter is his passer rating, which has never dipped below 105 in those three seasons. To put that into context, Brady has had a passer rating of 105 or above just four times in his career (2007, 2010, 2011, 2016).

Similarly, Mahomes has averaged at least eight yards per attempt in each of his years as a starter while Brady has achieved that feat only three occasions (2007, 2011, 2016).

Mahomes is level with Brady with two games of at least 450 passing yards and they also each have a pair of games with six touchdown passes.

Owing to his superior athleticism, Mahomes has surpassed Brady for playoff rushing yards. Brady has rushed for 135 yards in the postseason – his lack of a playoff touchdown on the ground perhaps surprising for arguably the greatest exponent of the quarterback sneak.

Mahomes has 173 yards on the ground in the playoffs and four touchdowns, including one in last year's Super Bowl LIV win over the San Francisco 49ers. He will undoubtedly be expected to have an impact as a runner on Sunday and it is clear where he has the advantage as a thrower.

Deep ball to close the gap?

It speaks to Mahomes' astonishing skill set that he is already established as one of the best downfield throwers in NFL history.

Looking at their respective air yards per attempt averages, there doesn't appear to be much to choose between Brady and Mahomes in aggressiveness in pushing the ball deep. Brady averages 8.25 air yards for his career, with Mahomes slightly ahead on 8.44.

The divide comes in a comparison of their success in going downfield.

Indeed, on passes of 20 air yards or more, Brady has a completion percentage of 32.6 per cent, those completions resulting in 14,206 yards, 116 touchdowns, 62 interceptions and a passer rating of 86.

In his short time in the league, Mahomes has connected on 41.6 per cent of such throws for 3,258 yards, 40 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 109.6 passer rating.

Mahomes' superiority as a deep passer is further reflected by his and Brady's performance in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A), which is better used as a measure of overall team effectiveness in the passing game but is inflated by the long gains that have become a staple for the Chiefs with Mahomes under center.

Astoundingly, in his relatively short time as a starting quarterback, Mahomes has claimed the all-time lead in adjusted net yards per attempt among signal-callers with at least 1,500 throws. He has averaged 8.49 ANY/A in his career, with Aaron Rodgers (7.42) a distant second and Brady even further back on 7.10.

Mahomes' best season in the context of ANY/A was his MVP campaign of 2018 when he averaged 8.89 yards. In his decorated career, Brady only came close to matching that in 2007, when he put up 8.88 ANY/A as a record-breaking Patriots offense steamrolled its way to an unbeaten regular season.

Beyond that, Brady has only one other regular season that was superior to Mahomes' efforts in 2019 (8.38) and 2020 (8.33), which came in 2016 when he finished with 8.81 ANY/A en route to a fifth Super Bowl title.

Mahomes has yet to deliver a repeat effort as impressive as his 2018 campaign, but rarely has Brady succeeded in matching the downfield exploits of his counterpart.

A win away from becoming the first quarterback to claim back-to-back Super Bowls since Brady did so at the end of the 2004 season, Mahomes has a long way to go to replicate the achievements of the player whose six rings are the most in NFL history.

However, his evident advantage as a deep-ball thrower could be what makes the difference in Mahomes and Kansas City defeating the Bucs on their own turf and narrowing the gap for the quarterback viewed as the best bet to eventually knock Brady off the top of the mountain.

Preston to Liverpool may not be too far to travel in terms of miles, but it has been quite a footballing journey that has seen Ben Davies end up at Anfield. 

The defender completed one of the more unlikely transfers of this mid-season window, or of any other year for that matter, when he signed a long-term contract to join the reigning Premier League champions on deadline day.  

In need of defensive reinforcements with Joel Matip becoming the latest long-term casualty, the Reds turned to a player from the Championship few thought to be on their radar less than 48 hours earlier. Even the player himself admitted it was all a bit surreal, though this was the kind of career opportunity simply too good to turn down.   

So, February 1, 2021, will now always live long in the memory for Davies, who has taken in a few temporary stops along the way to his current destination. The first of those was at York City, where as a talented but raw teenager he was initially set to stay for a month but ended up sticking around for an entire season in League Two.  

"He was a skinny kid who came into our changing room and was very, very quiet," former York goalkeeper Michael Ingham told Stats Perform News about that 2013-14 campaign. "I think the difference from when he first came to the end of his spell was night and day. 

"Ben came into a good changing room, one with a lot of characters. He was the butt of a couple of jokes but just grew and grew. That's what parent clubs try to do, to get their young players out on loan so they can grow up a bit. He definitely did that. 

"When he was with us, you'd have thought he was a left-back all day long. He's obviously grown into his body and developed that aggressive side to his game, something which you need to play at centre-half."

It was far from easy going in the first half of that campaign: York went into 2014 sitting outside the relegation zone only on goal difference. However, a January recruitment drive by boss Nigel Worthington changed everything. The Minstermen lost just twice in their remaining league games, going from serious candidates to drop through the trapdoor and out of the Football League to unexpected challengers for promotion.  

Davies was a mainstay in the team, making 47 appearances in all competitions. The last of them was in a 0-0 draw in the second leg of the play-off semi-final against Fleetwood, a result that ended hopes of going up. There was no promotion to celebrate, but the campaign had undoubtedly been a huge success for him personally. 

Worthington had also produced another transfer masterstroke in getting Nick Pope to York in from Charlton Athletic for the second half of the campaign.  

"I'd picked up a groin strain and had said I’d need to come out, but there was no room in the budget for someone to come in at that stage," Ingham recalls.  

"I played and I played until it eventually went, then someone came in on loan before Popey. I got fit again, kept two clean sheets as we won three games on the bounce. Then, on a Monday, I saw this big lad in the changing room and I knew straight away that I was coming out of the team again.  

"He was an unbelievable size and had great attributes. He struggled a little bit with his kicking while with us but was a great shot-stopper and would come out all day long for crosses. He might drop the odd one but would come again the next time. 

"You could see he had great confidence in his ability and was going on to higher things." 

Both Pope – now pushing hard to be considered England's number one - and Davies would go out on loan again elsewhere to gain valuable experience. It could well be that exactly seven years on from playing on the same team as York's promotion bid ended at Fleetwood, they line up as opponents when Burnley host Liverpool at Turf Moor in mid-May.  

Ingham, now playing at a semi-professional level while working as a coach for i2i Football Academy, will watch on if his former team-mates are pitted on opposite sides in the Premier League. He knows only too well the value of loan moves, something that helped him personally in the early stages of his career after moving to Sunderland.

"I had the quick realisation when going there [to Sunderland] that I needed to play games somewhere to get ready for the first team," the former Northern Ireland international explained. "I didn't think reserve team football was good enough for me, so I went out on loan probably twice every year I was there." 

Davies continued to be a loan ranger for several years too, heading out to Tranmere Rovers, Southport, Newport County and Fleetwood before eventually establishing himself the first team at Preston, initially as a full-back before transitioning to the heart of North End's defence.   

He had been a mainstay in the 2020-21 campaign for manager Alex Neil, playing 1,691 minutes with the team conceding 23 goals in his 19 second-tier appearances. Celtic were reportedly interested with his contract winding down - then Liverpool suddenly came calling and his future plans changed overnight.  

While set to line up in the same position his responsibilities will change markedly for Liverpool, where playing centre-back is about more than just heading the ball clear and getting in the way to block shots. You are expected to perform those tasks, of course, but also help build attacks from the back in a possession-based system that gives licence for those defenders positioned next to you on the flanks to roam forwards.  

Davies has averaged 39.7 passes per game for Preston this term, boasting a completion rate of 79 per cent. Against West Ham on Sunday, the centre-back pairing Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Phillips made 92 and 76 respectively for the Reds. He, along with fellow new addition Ozan Kabak, will have to quickly learn how to play for the ever-demanding Klopp. 

"We play differently to Preston and Schalke so they'll need time but we don't have a lot, so we'll use the time we have in our hands and try our best," the German coach told the media.

After the surreal experience of signing for Liverpool, reality is about to kick in. Still, while no longer that same skinny kid seen at York, that season plying his trade in the fourth tier demonstrated how Davies is capable of adapting.

The Los Angeles Rams' brass didn't say much when pressed on the future of Jared Goff in the wake of their season coming to an end in the Divisional Round.

They didn't need to. The brevity head coach Sean McVay and Les Snead displayed and their unwillingness to express confidence in Goff as the long-term starter at quarterback spoke volumes.

Indeed, their reluctance to offer vociferous support for the quarterback proved a harbinger of an offseason blockbuster, which was agreed with the final chapter of the 2020 NFL season still to be written in Tampa.

Los Angeles paid a steep price to move on from Goff, sending him to the Detroit Lions along with a third-round pick in this year's draft and first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 to acquire Matthew Stafford. The Rams have not made a first-round pick since selecting Goff in 2016 and, through this latest aggressive move, are not scheduled to do so until 2024.

It is a move made with the intention of realising the potential of a championship calibre offense that has too often operated with the handbrake applied during Goff's time with the team.

"I'm just excited to be somewhere that I know wants me and appreciates me," Goff told NFL.com of his trade to Detroit.

But were Goff's contributions underappreciated in Los Angeles? And will Stafford, himself one of the more underrated quarterbacks in football, unlock McVay's offense in a way Goff couldn't?

Goff prolific under McVay

There are raw numbers that would indicate Goff at least being Stafford's equal. 

Since McVay took over from Jeff Fisher in 2017, Goff has thrown 102 touchdowns, seven more than Stafford and 10th in the NFL in that span.

His yards per attempt average of 7.71 is also superior to Stafford over the past four seasons, albeit by a narrow margin, Stafford having gained 7.64 yards per pass in the same period.

In the 2018 season, when the Rams were defeated by the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, Goff was third in yards per attempt with 8.36 compared to Stafford's 6.81.

Only Patrick Mahomes (52) managed more passing plays of 25 yards or more than the 40 produced that year by Goff, who was third in the NFL in percentage of throws that went for a first down (41.5).

Yet those statistics must be looked at through the prism of him operating in one of the most quarterback-friendly offenses in football.

Set up for success

Though the two attacks have their differences, a useful way to judge Goff's performance in McVay's offense is to compare his performance to the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks in Kyle Shanahan's system.

Both offenses are based heavily on play-action and passing concepts designed to maximise their receivers' ability to pick up yardage after the catch.

The 2018 season, in which the 49ers played without starter Jimmy Garoppolo for 13 games, saw then third-stringer Nick Mullens feature for eight weeks of the season and average 8.31 yards per attempt.

That negligible difference between Goff and Mullens is reflective of the assistance schemes such as those of McVay and Shanahan give to quarterbacks.

Stafford has had no such help in recent times in Detroit and yet, over the last four seasons, he comes out as the superior signal-caller in a series of categories.

Stafford's downfield dynamism

While Stafford has been recognised as more of a gunslinger than Goff, he has done a superior job of taking care of the football.

Since 2017, Goff has a touchdown to interception ratio of 2.13, putting him 21st in the NFL. Stafford, meanwhile, is 12th with a TD-INT ratio of 2.64.

Stafford has also been the more accurate thrower in that timeframe, completing 65.2 per cent of his passes compared to 64.3 per cent for Goff, while his greater aggressiveness as a downfield thrower is reflected by their respective air yards per attempt averages across the past four seasons.

Goff has averaged 7.4 air yards per attempt, as opposed to 8.4 for Stafford, who has been substantially more successful when pushing the ball downfield.

Indeed, Stafford has completed 40.8 per cent of throws of 20 air yards or more since 2017, putting up 3,449 yards, 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, resulting in a passer rating of 106.7.

Those numbers are in stark contrast to Goff, who has connected on 35.8 per cent of such passes for 2,639 yards, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 89.3.

Stafford has also fared better in an area of the game this is pivotal to the Rams' offense under McVay.

Play-action production

Goff attempted 768 play-action passes during his time working under McVay, completing 65.1 per cent of them for 6,861 yards, 38 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 103.0 passer rating.

Those are excellent numbers but they are inferior to those of Stafford. In a smaller sample size of 470 play-action throws since 2017, Stafford has a completion percentage of 69.4, passing for 4,364 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions, giving him a passer rating of 111.0.

Play-action is a tremendous tool for slowing down aggressive defenses and negating pressure, but the Rams can afford to have more confidence in Stafford's ability to handle pressure than they did with Goff.

Goff made his first NFL start in Week 11 of the 2016 season. Since then he has completed 46 per cent of his passes when under pressure - compared to 72.5 when the pocket is kept clean - for 4,907 yards, 26 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Over the same span, Stafford's completion percentage dropped to 51.7 when pressured as opposed to 70.8 from clean pockets. He threw for 4,777 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions when under duress, his passer rating of 65.6 well above Goff's 55.3.

There is no question Goff has previously flourished in McVay's offense. The numbers and the playoff wins speak to that, but the fact he ranks fifth in the NFL in yards after catch per reception (6.0) since 2017 is evidence of him being aided by a play-action heavy system that can keep pressure off him and puts the onus on receivers to make plays in the open field.

Stafford, who got an average of 5.5 YAC per reception in the last four seasons, has not enjoyed the perks of playing in one of the most innovative offenses in football, yet the data paints a clear picture of why the Rams made the trade.

He can add a downfield element to the passing game that has been sorely lacking with Goff and improve the Rams' play-action game while giving them the option of leaning more on straight dropback passes without as much fear of what will happen when the pocket breaks down.

Goff is worthy of credit and, yes, appreciation for his early success in McVay's scheme. However, in recent times he has drastically limited the ceiling of the Rams' offense. Stafford can remove those limits and help the Rams finally cash in after years of throwing their chips to the middle of the table.

Tottenham lost another battle on the same day as the Royal Rumble and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain reached a Premier League landmark he will not be boasting about on Sunday.

Leandro Trossard scored the only goal of the game as Brighton and Hove Albion beat Spurs to ease their relegation fears, inflicting what looks like a finishing move on Jose Mourinho's side in the title race.

Oxlade-Chamberlain came off the bench for the 100th time in a top-flight game late in Liverpool's 3-1 victory at West Ham, while leaders Manchester City broke a record on Saturday.

With the help of Opta data, we take a look at some of the quirkiest stats from the Premier League action over the weekend.

 

Trossard wrestles the initiative

Tottenham made the journey to the south coast reeling from a painful midweek defeat to Liverpool in which they lost captain Harry Kane to injury.

Trossard delivered the knockout blow at the Amex Stadium, leaving Mourinho's men 11 points behind leaders City in sixth place.

Spurs fans who follow WWE may have been fearing the worst, as they have lost nine times when playing on the same day as the Royal Rumble was staged - more than any English league club.

Edge and Bianca Belair came out on top in the extravaganza at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida after Spurs were seemingly eliminated from the title race.

Sub century for Ox

Midfielder Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Divock Origi 10 minutes from time in the Reds' victory at previously in-form West Ham.

The former Arsenal man became the 15th player to make 100 top-flight appearances off the bench.

Peter Crouch (158) did so on the most occasions, with Oxlade-Chamberlain's team-mate James Milner (154) second on the list and Jermain Defoe (149) completing the top three.

Happy new year for irrepressible City

City extended their winning streak to 12 matches at the expense of bottom side Sheffield United on Saturday, Gabriel Jesus scoring the only goal of the game.

Pep Guardiola's side will take some stopping in their bid to regain the title, as they lead neighbours Manchester United by three points with a game in hand.

That early strike from Jesus made it nine wins out of nine for City in January, more than any side has achieved in a calendar month since the formation of the Football League in 1888.

Shot-shy Clarets

Chelsea eased to their first win under Thomas Tuchel on Sunday, seeing off Burnley 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.

The Clarets arrived in London on a three-match winning run, including a shock 1-0 triumph at Anfield and a 3-2 thriller against Aston Villa.

Sean Dyche's men barely laid a glove on Chelsea, though, and went the longest any side has gone without an attempt at goal in the Premier League this season.

They looked set to become the first team not to have an attempt in a game since Bournemouth against Manchester City in March 2019 until James Tarkowski's header in stoppage time. Better late than never? Dyche might not see it that way.

One year on from his Red Devils debut, Bruno Fernandes is the face of Manchester United and one of Europe's finest, but back in 2012 it was a lot different.

There were no camera crews when a baby-faced Fernandes packed his bags and left Portugal for Italy almost nine years ago – Novara was the destination for the unheralded midfielder.

Novara, a club based in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, had been alerted to the 17-year-old. Scouted by former head of youth Mauro Borghetti, they opted to sign Fernandes from Boavista – investing for the future.

"The previous season our club was in Serie A but was being relegated in Serie B, so with the board we took the decision to invest some money on some foreign talents," Borghetti – now sporting director of the Serie C side – told Stats Perform News.

"Bruno Fernandes was in this list and because of his technical skills and his value – we knew his value more or less – we decided to make a survey for this player and pay him a visit.

"On a Saturday morning I took a flight to Portugal to watch an Under-19 Boavista game. He struck me for the characteristics he is showing now, although he didn't shine that much in that game. But I could see his skills and his personality on top of his creativity."

It is not often Portuguese talent leave their homeland for abroad, but Fernandes forged his own path en route to Old Trafford, having also played for Udinese, Sampdoria and Sporting CP.

"Bruno's situation was peculiar," Borghetti said. "He was not playing in one of the top Portuguese clubs that boast great visibility and can make young talents grow in the country. Bruno was playing in the U19 of Boavista, a club relegated in the third division at the time.

"He was waiting for his chance to shine. Novara, an Italian club, albeit in Serie B at the time, was what Bruno was waiting for. So it was not hard to find a deal and Bruno didn't take long to give us the green light."

Initially signed to Novara's youth team, Fernandes made an immediate impact at Stadio Silvio Piola, where he learnt Italian language using post-it notes.

Fernandes scored four goals in 23 appearances as Novara finished fifth in the 2012-13 Serie B season before falling to Empoli in the promotion play-offs.

"Bruno is a very smart guy so he settled in right away at Novara," Borghetti continued. "In one week, 10 days tops, he started communicating with the group in Italian, an example of his intelligence. This helped him a lot as much as the fact of being the only foreigner, the only Portuguese, in a full Italian squad. This helped him get involved faster, he was basically forced to speak Italian. He settled down so quickly and this helped him a lot."

Borghetti added: "As a foreign kid who was supposed to take his time to settle in, he definitely was quick in doing it. We didn't expect such a growth as we didn't know him so well. When we started to know him better, then yes, we thought he could go straight to the first team.

"In fact, he stayed only six months in Novara U19 squad. He then played the second part of the season as a starter of the first squad, scoring and taking the team to the playoff for Serie A."

Having exceeded expectations at Novara, Fernandes quickly made the step up to Serie A – firstly with Udinese before joining Sampdoria three years later in 2016.

But it was not until 2017, when he returned to his homeland, that Fernandes captured the attention of United and Europe's elite.

Fernandes was a class above in Primeira Liga, scoring 64 goals in 137 appearances for Sporting, where he led the Portuguese giants to Taca da Liga (2018 and 2019) and Taca de Portugal (2019) glory.

There were rumours of interest from Real Madrid and Tottenham, but after months of speculation, United finally landed their talisman in deal worth an initial £47million last year.

Fernandes has not looked back – the Portugal international has been involved in 45 goals across all competitions, more than any other player for a Premier League club.

Only captain Harry Maguire (54) has made more competitive appearances for United than the Portuguese (53), but the former Sporting skipper has scored the most goals (28) and assisted his team-mates the most often (17).

Fernandes ended 2020 winning his fourth Premier League Player of the Month award, becoming the first to claim that many honours in a calendar year. For that award, he has already matched the tallies of United greats Paul Scholes and Ronaldo and is just one behind all-time leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

A transformative signing for the Red Devils, Fernandes has been directly involved in 33 goals in his first 35 appearances (19 goals, 14 assists) – a figure bettered only by Andrew Cole (41) in the history of the Premier League.

"For us he was a very important player," Borghetti said. "He always proved he was a cut above the average footballers. But to be honest with Udinese and Sampdoria he was in Serie A but hadn't impressed us all so much.

"His breakthrough came after his season in Portugal with Sporting. There he became a world-class player, playing the World Cup next to Cristiano Ronaldo, so you could expect a big move.

"Now he is at United, one of the most glorious clubs in Europe, and he fully deserves it. He epitomises the idea that a player can always improve throughout his career and achieve higher and higher results."

Fernandes was crowned United's Player of the Year in 2019-20, becoming the second Portuguese player to win the award after international team-mate Ronaldo. Since its inception in 1987-88, no player has won the award having played as few games in a season as Fernandes' 22 in all competitions last term.

This season, Fernandes has scored 11 Premier League goals and supplied seven assists in 21 appearances as second-placed United dream of silverware. In total, he has managed 16 goals across all competitions.

Not since 2013 – Alex Ferguson's final season at the Theatre of Dreams – have United won the Premier League but Fernandes' presence has awoken a sleeping giant after years of mediocrity. While Maguire wears the armband, the 26-year-old Fernandes is a demanding figure on and off the pitch.

"He didn't stay long in the youth team and then in the first squad because he moved to Serie A right away, so he didn't have the chance to become a captain [at Novara]," Borghetti said. "But he is a soul captain, his personality makes him an example on the pitch and as a professional. He always proved this so I am not surprised at all that in his career and now he is so mature as a leader and could be shortlisted for being the captain." 

As Fernandes continues to take England by storm, Borghetti added: "When I watch him on TV, I feel satisfaction. I follow United more now because there is a kid I know who plays there. Whatever he achieved was done thanks to his skills, exclusively his merit. On the other hand, a glimpse of importance is mine because with one evaluation I gave him the chance to prove himself.

"Novara in his history, although short, was a chance to shine. Without Novara, maybe Bruno would have got to the highest level anyway through different paths, but since this cannot be proved, I can say Novara and I have been an important stepping-stone for him." 

"I think he is at a high level now," he said. "To improve he should only win individual trophies or with his team domestically and in Europe. That is what he should do with Manchester United. On a personal level, it is the athlete's constant aim to improving all the time, but now Bruno is at such a high level where improvements are now difficult."

The eye-watering wages Lionel Messi is being paid by Barcelona have been leaked by El Mundo.

The lucrative contract signed by the Argentina international in November 2017, which is set to expire this year, was said to potentially be worth more than €555million.

According to the Spanish newspaper, that includes annual earnings in excess of €138m - dependent on some variables - as well as a renewal fee of over €115m and a loyalty bonus just shy of €78m.

The report says Messi has earned €29.8m of the €73.5m up for grabs in incentives, making the deal ultimately worth €511.5m to the superstar striker.

That would make the 33-year-old the world's best-paid athlete, seeing him bring in around five times the amount NBA great LeBron James makes.

But against a backdrop of financial woes, with Barca's accounts for 2019-20 showing a gross debt of €820m, have the Catalan giants really got value for their money?

We take a closer look at the figures involved behind the deal and provide a breakdown of Messi's worth to the side.

STRIKING IT RICH

Messi's contract renewal was made official on November 25, 2017, six months after reports emerged of the forward having turned down the club's initial offer.

At that point in his career, he had scored 523 goals in 602 appearances for the Catalans in all competitions - a staggering scoring rate that saw him break a number of records.

The Argentinian has continued to feature regularly for Barca since then, playing 152 times in all competitions.

That totals 12,678 minutes of playing time overall which, using the €511,540,548 figure Messi has received, equates to €40,349 per minute across that period - although this will decrease slightly by June as he continues to play.

The Barca number 10 has scored 126 goals in all competitions - 94 in LaLiga, 21 in the Champions League, 10 in the Copa del Rey and one in the Supercopa de Espana.

Using those same reported figures, Messi has therefore been paid €4,059,846 for every goal he has netted since putting pen to paper on his latest contract.

SCORING FIGURES DECLINING

Barcelona have not exactly enjoyed their greatest period on the field during that time, winning just four trophies - LaLiga twice and the Copa and Supercopa once apiece.

No player in LaLiga has scored (94) or assisted (45) more goals since November 2017 than Messi, while the 277 chances he has created is also a competition-high.

However, the one-club man's goalscoring figures have dropped off over the past two seasons.

Messi scored 36 league goals in 2018-19, two more than the previous campaign, compared to 25 last season and 11 in 17 games so far this term.

In terms of assists, he has just two this campaign, which is a huge decline on the 21 supplied last time out - a LaLiga record, surpassing Xavi's 20 in 2008-09.

IMPORTANCE DIMINISHING?

Coach Ronald Koeman has not been afraid to leave Messi out of his starting line-up on occasion this season and the statistics appear to show his importance to the team is dwindling.

Going back to 2017-18, the season in which the forward signed his lucrative deal, Barca's win rate in the league dropped from 81.2 per cent with Messi in the XI to 33.3 per cent without.

That is in stark contrast to the current campaign, in which Koeman's men actually have a better win rate without Messi in their starting line-up, albeit over a smaller number of games.

Barca have won 56.2 per cent of the 16 LaLiga games Messi has started this term, compared to 66.7 per cent of the three games in which he has not featured from the outset. They have not lost any of the matches Messi has missed.

Marcus Rashford took just too long with his one big chance against Arsenal.

By the time he had controlled Luke Shaw's cross and turned back behind Cedric Soares, goalkeeper Bernd Leno had closed his route to goal. Rashford turned, played it backwards, and the danger was gone.

That first-half moment and a later shot blasted into the side-netting were the sum total of Rashford's threatening moments in Saturday's goalless Premier League draw at the Emirates Stadium, the third game in United's previous four that they have failed to win.

Like the 0-0 draw at Liverpool two weeks ago, there was a feeling United should have done much more to exploit their opponents' vulnerable state, with Mikel Arteta unable to call upon Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, his three most likely match-winners.

Like that stalemate at Anfield, Rashford failed to score, assist a goal or create a chance. Indeed, his assist for Paul Pogba's winning volley at Burnley is the only time Rashford has been directly involved in a goal in his past six league games. It's the longest time he has gone without a top-flight goal this season. The England forward has managed just one shot in target in his past five league games, so this is not just a case of an unfortunate dry spell against heroic goalkeeping.

Of course, Rashford scored one and set up another in the 3-2 FA Cup win over Jurgen Klopp's side, but that was a short reprieve from his recent rut. In league football lately, he has been reflective of Red Devils performances: sluggish, uninspired, inadequate.

Rashford is not alone in having lost his spark. A generally tepid encounter at the Emirates, reminiscent of past battles between these teams in name only, was another in which Bruno Fernandes could not influence the attack, where Edinson Cavani had three touches in the Arsenal penalty area and Luke Shaw, with three chances created, was the visitors' most enterprising attacking outlet.

While he attempted eight dribbles, the most he has tried in a league game since the win over Aston Villa on January 1, two of them were rather desperate runs through the middle of an Arsenal defensive pair, with little apparent forethought. Perhaps he thought too much when it came to distribution: for the second time in three league outings, he played one pass into the opposition penalty area. He has not found a team-mate with a cross since the 3-2 win at Southampton on November 29.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Rashford with Mason Greenwood 10 minutes from time, and he seemed neither put out nor relieved to be given a break. He was simply... there, just on the other side of the touchline.

The United manager might be pleased with a second successive away game against a big-six side in which they have neither lost nor conceded a goal, helping them to a club-record 18-match unbeaten run on their travels. As with the Liverpool trip, they also had a clear chance to win, Cavani's late, twisting volley just missing the bottom-right corner of Bernd Leno's net.

Yet they have taken only one point from games against bottom-club Sheffield United and eighth-place Arsenal in a week in which Manchester City have opened up a three-point gap at the top of the table, with a game in hand. They've also failed to score a goal in five league games in a row against that big-six contingent.

Their title aspirations are beginning to look like Rashford's recent use of a football: worryingly misplaced.

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