Being France, there is still time for a crisis to develop, for a rotten egg to slip into the souffle mixture, or a contretemps to blow up into full-blown guerre civile.

But for now, after dismissing Italy in brutal fashion in their Women's Euro 2022 opener, Les Bleues are looking simply magnifique.

When coach Corinne Diacre left Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer out of her Euros squad, deciding France could cope without the Champions League final player of the match and the national team's record goalscorer, it was a calculated act of coaching courage that had the potential to backfire spectacularly.

And it still might, because Sunday evening's 5-1 drubbing in Rotherham taught us only so much: on the front foot, against opponents whose defending leaves a lot to be desired, they can fill their boots.

Diacre felt Henry and Le Sommer were not ideal fits for this team, and the coach whose controversy-packed five-year reign makes her a divisive figure staked her reputation on it.

France, like this tournament's hosts, England, have yet to win a major tournament, but they have been fancied more often than the Lionesses to come away with a trophy and repeatedly failed to deliver on expectations.

They have typically run into strong opposition and not had quite enough. Italy have a long way to come before they fall into the 'strong opposition' category, with the Azzurre recklessly obliging in this Group D landslide at the New York Stadium.

France had set two Women's Euros records by half-time, becoming the first team to score five goals before the break, with Grace Geyoro the first player to hit a first-half hat-trick.

Italy had won their opening match at just two of their previous 11 Women's Euros (D4 L5). Hopes of a third such victory were already over as they retreated for dressing-room respite. They have now lost 11 of their past 16 games at the Euros (W4 D1).

It might have been a different story if Barbara Bonansea buried an early chance, but she was denied by the legs of France goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, and a rout ensued.

Kadidiatou Diani, a menace on the right, sent over a low centre that was feebly dealt with by Italy, allowing Geyoro a ninth-minute tap-in, and the second French goal was also about threat from the flanks, with Sakina Karchaoui racing down the left before her deflected cross was palmed into the path of a grateful Marie-Antoinette Katoto by Italy goalkeeper Laura Giuliani.

Twelve minutes in, France were 2-0 up and rampant. Delphine Cascarino hit a delightful third from the edge of the box, Geyoro rounded Giuliani for a fourth and added number five in the 45th minute, disrupting Italian possession herself before taking a return ball from Sandie Toletti and smashing home.

Unable to halt Geyoro by fair means, Italy elected for another approach after the break as captain Sara Gama hacked down the forward with a messy challenge on the left. Shown a red card initially, it was reduced to yellow after a VAR check, which probably saved Italy from greater humiliation.

They got a goal back through Martina Piemonte's neat header, too, France becoming briefly ragged. The French might need to win this tournament, or at least reach the July 31 final at Wembley, for Diacre's big decisions to be justified, so here was a just a glimpse of fragility. A fifth successive win in European Championship openers was never in doubt.

One more number felt significant on this warm Yorkshire night. The crowd of 8,541 drew warm applause around this tidy lower-league ground, and rightly so. When these teams met in the group stage of Euro 2005, also hosted by England, only 957 turned out at Preston's Deepdale ground to witness the occasion.

The women's game is changing, and perhaps the same might be said for France.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It may feel like men's football has hardly been away, but Europe's top leagues are already into pre-season, meaning it promises to be a busy few weeks as teams ramp up preparations for the 2022-23 campaign.

Of course, pre-season is a little more compact this year because of the first ever mid-season World Cup, which is due to begin in November.

The World Cup's place in the calendar means the domestic season is starting earlier and finishing later than usual.

You can expect plenty of noteworthy games before the end of July. They may not mean a great deal in the grand scheme, but these games can offer a degree of intrigue, whether bitter rivals are facing each other or new signings are beginning their integration.

Below, Stats Perform has identified some notable matches that may be worth keeping tabs on before the end of the month.

Manchester United v Liverpool - July 12, 14:00 BST

Erik ten Hag's first match in charge of United will be against fierce rivals Liverpool in Bangkok on Tuesday. The Dutchman may not have made all the signings he would surely have liked before jetting out for pre-season, but seeing his new squad in action on the pitch for the first time may give him a better idea of what the club's transfer priorities should be.

RB Leipzig v Liverpool - July 21, 18:15 BST

The first of successive friendlies against 'Red Bull' clubs (they play Salzburg six days after this), and some Liverpool players will find themselves in familiar surroundings when they go to Leipzig. This should provide a good test of the Reds' fitness ahead of facing Manchester City in the Community Shield nine days later.

Bayern Munich v Manchester City - July 23, 00:00 BST

Pep Guardiola faces his former team in what will be the first ever soccer game played at the famous Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Arsenal v Chelsea - July 23, 01:00 BST

London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea are the main attractions in the Florida Cup, which confusingly is not just being played in the Sunshine State. However, the Gunners and Blues will be playing their contest in Orlando.

Tottenham v Roma - July 23, 19:15 BST

Spurs versus Jose Mourinho. Say no more.

Barcelona v Real Madrid - July 24, 04:00 BST

This Las Vegas clash will be by no means the first time Barca and Madrid have played a Clasico during pre-season. Their clashes are always worth watching, regardless of the stakes.

Bon diaaaaaaa!  pic.twitter.com/JdnE523QIs

— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 9, 2022

Barcelona v Juventus - July 27, 01:00 BST

After tussling with Madrid in a Clasico, Barca face another European heavyweight in Juventus at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas.

Arsenal v Sevilla - July 30, 12:30 BST

The Emirates Cup is usually a solid option for pre-season entertainment. Arsenal's visitors this year are Julen Lopetegui's Sevilla, who finished fourth in LaLiga last season.

Real Madrid v Juventus - July 31, 03:00 BST

Having signed Angel Di Maria and seemingly being about to announce Paul Pogba's arrival, Juventus will be under pressure to pose more of a threat in Serie A and Europe next season. In that case, who better to test themselves against than Champions League winners Madrid? This game will be played at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles.

Manchester United v Rayo Vallecano - July 31, 16:00 BST

This one may buck the trend in that it is not necessarily a clash between two current European high performers, but it is noteworthy as being Ten Hag's first Old Trafford game.

Elena Rybakina produced a breathtaking comeback to win the Wimbledon title as Ons Jabeur fell short in the women's final – a Russian native triumphing in the name of Kazakhstan.

Rybakina, who was born, raised and learned her tennis trade in Moscow, switched to represent Kazakhstan in 2018 after being offered an appealing financial package.

Russians were banned, along with their Belarusian colleagues, from playing at Wimbledon this year by the All England Club, owing to the Kremlin-led invasion of Ukraine.

The decision has cost Wimbledon, and Britain's Lawn Tennis Association, fines totalling $1million, albeit those are being appealed.

And still, somehow, a player with tight Russian ties has prevailed, handed the trophy on Centre Court by the Duchess of Cambridge. This was not, it seems safe to say, the ideal scenario for Wimbledon's blazer brigade.

Yet in Rybakina the tournament has an exciting young champion, and given she turned her back on playing for Russia to represent Kazakhstan, it is hardly a victory that Vladimir Putin can hold up as a great triumph for his country on the global sporting stage.

All the same, some of the power-brokers in SW19 might have been quietly hoping that Jabeur would see this through, the world number two delivering trophy success that would have been celebrated across Africa and the Arab world.

The crowd appeared to be pulling for Jabeur too, after the 27-year-old made herself a favourite thanks to her entertaining, enterprising brand of tennis, matched to a thoroughly charming personality.

The Tunisian, playing the biggest match of her life as the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha got under way, looked like her day in the sun had arrived when on a sizzling London day she took the first set without any particular fuss.

A pre-tournament sally by the seaside with Serena Williams served Jabeur well, their doubles liaison in Eastbourne emboldening the world number two for this fortnight, and yet come crunch point in the final, it all went over the cliff.

There was a skip of satisfaction when Jabeur broke early in that first set, and with the six-foot Rybakina spraying her powerful ground shots often out of court it looked to be a match that could only go one way. There were sizzling winners from Rybakina but too many unforced errors, with 17 in the first set alone.

Perhaps it was the scale of what she was halfway to achieving, but Jabeur's focus then slipped. An ill-advised 'tweener', the between-the-legs party piece favoured by Nick Kyrgios, found the net and pointed to incoming trouble.

Rybakina swept to a 5-1 lead in the second set. Jabeur, known as the "minister of happiness" in Tunisia, soon looked pretty glum as Rybakina levelled the match with an ace on set point.

The winners-to-errors ratio had swung around dramatically from the first set, and when Rybakina sprinted ahead in the decider with an immediate break, dominating the battles of craft as well as the full-power rallies, Jabeur was in the doldrums.

The usually mild-mannered Jabeur lashed out when she was outsmarted at the net by Rybakina, lucky not to make full contact as she swished out at the ball in frustration.

Leading 3-2 and approaching the finish line, Rybakina slipped 0-40 down, as some of Jabeur's great touch returned with drop-shot and lob winners. That could have been a turning point, but Rybakina fended off the danger in terrific style, finishing off the game with a simple volley at the net.

Victory came from the first match point, Jabeur hacking a backhand wide. Rybakina raised her left wrist to her mouth, puffed out her cheeks and jogged up to the net to greet Jabeur, before waving to all corners of Centre Court.

The world number 23, whose age matches her ranking, becomes the second-lowest ranked women's singles champion at Wimbledon since the Open Era began in 1968. Only Venus Williams in 2007, when ranked 31st, triumphed from a lower rung on the ladder.

It was 3-6 6-2 6-2 in the end, and Rybakina became the first women's singles champion since Amelie Mauresmo in 2006 to come back from losing the first set to carry off the Venus Rosewater Dish.

She passed 50 aces in a WTA-level tournament for the first time in the process, with four in this match taking her Wimbledon 2022 total to 53, and becomes the youngest women's champion in these parts since 2011, when a 21-year-old Petra Kvitova saw off Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova was champion for Russia as a 17-year-old in 2004. This, though, was for Kazakhstan, Rybakina effusively thanking the wealthy federation president Bulat Utemuratov who watched on proudly.

As Wimbledon hung on every word, he was emphatically the right president to acknowledge.

"There's definitely times when I hate this sport."

It is difficult to imagine Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic coming out with such a line – but then Nick Kyrgios does not pretend to be comparable to any of those tennis greats.

Kyrgios' maiden major singles final appearance has come about due to unprecedented circumstances, with a tear to Nadal's abdominal muscle making his opponent the first to benefit from a walkover in a Wimbledon semi-final in the Open Era.

"It's not the way I wanted to get to the final," said Kyrgios in the same news conference on Friday.

But injuries are becoming increasingly commonplace for the 'Big Three' – already trimmed from a 'Big Four' due to the fitness woes endured by Kyrgios' great mate Andy Murray.

So, does the first-time finalist see an opportunity to step into that void at the forefront of the sport?

"No, no, I don't," Kyrgios replied. "I don't think anyone's able to fill those shoes."

He added with a grin: "If I ever win a grand slam trophy, please don't put the pressure on my to do another one."

This might be Kyrgios' first and only title run, but it is one he has waited a long time for.

"I saw some of the professionals walking around when I'd be a junior here, and I never thought that I'd be playing for the actual men's title," he said.

"It's the pinnacle of tennis. Once you're able to raise a grand slam trophy, it's like: what else is there to achieve?

"I never thought I'd be here, and I'm just super proud and ready to go. I'm going to give it my all and see what happens."

Australia has waited a long time, too. Aussies have won six Wimbledon men's singles titles but none since Lleyton Hewitt's sole success in 2002.

Their last finalist was Mark Philippoussis in 2003, beaten by Federer for his first championship. By Sunday, 6,944 days will have passed since an Australian man walked out for a singles final on Centre Court.

That sort of legacy does not appeal to Kyrgios, though, as he explained: "The greats of Australian tennis haven't been the nicest to me, and they haven't always been the most supportive – they haven't been supportive these two weeks."

Hewitt is an exception – the Davis Cup captain was briefly a hitting partner prior to the tournament – but Kyrgios considers himself "definitely the outcast of the Australian players".

"It's pretty sad," he said, describing his relationship with other Aussie greats as "weird". "They have a sick obsession with tearing me down. It sucks."

No, rather than bid to join those ranks, Kyrgios believes he is inspiring others like him.

"I grew up in Canberra, the courts I trained on were horrible, and now I'm here with the chance to play the Wimbledon final," he said.

"I think it's honestly an inspiration for any kid who's been 'outcasted' or been surrounded by negative headlines or negative clouds or been brought down from a lot of different angles.

"It's possible, it's still possible to achieve something quite special if you just believe in yourself. I never really lost belief in myself."

There have certainly been no shortage of negative headlines.

Kyrgios spat at a spectator earlier in the tournament; his epic third-round win over Stefanos Tsitsipas was one of the matches of the fortnight, but his typically brash approach to that encounter was not widely popular; and when he spoke of having already prepared tactics for Nadal – a previous foe – it was easy to wonder whether Kyrgios intended to outplay his opponent or simply get under his skin.

More seriously, this week started with Kyrgios being summoned to appear before a court in Canberra next month to face an allegation of common assault.

Those Australian greats would not be alone in responding to a Kyrgios victory unenthusiastically, even if the Centre Court crowd appear to have warmed to him.

No amount of noise will be new to Kyrgios, and while this is his first major singles final, a doubles title at the Australian Open provided some vital preparation for getting to this stage, too.

"I realised in Melbourne that it's a long time; it's a really long time in one place," Kyrgios said.

He was ready then for the rollercoaster of a grand slam run: "I beat Paul Jubb 7-5 in the fifth set in my first round, and now I'm in the Wimbledon final. You've just got to ride the waves, roll with the punches.

"In a grand slam, you just don't know; you could be four points away from losing the tournament and then 11 days later you're in the final."

There is undeniable excitement at the opportunity that lies ahead of Kyrgios, who considers himself "one of the most competitive people I've ever met".

But for once he will be able to see the bigger picture if Sunday's match does not go his way; Kyrgios is the first unseeded major finalist since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2008 Australian Open and the first unseeded Wimbledon finalist since Philippoussis.

"I just know whether I win or lose on Sunday, I'm going to be happy, because it's just such a great achievement that I never thought I'd be a part of – especially at 27," Kyrgios said.

"For me, I thought it was the later stages of my career; I just never thought that it would be right here that I'd have a chance."

Now he does have that chance, though, he is determined to give his all – something that has not always been a given with Kyrgios, his critics might suggest.

"Since I've been born, only eight people have won this title, only eight," he said. "I'm just going to give it my best shot."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


GREALISH OVERLOOKED

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE STATS DON'T LIE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


... OR DO THEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before the latest Cristiano Ronaldo transfer plea emerged last weekend, the conversation around Manchester United in this window focused primarily on their incoming business and the club's transfer policy.

A year ago, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United looked to be building a young, exciting team, only to be distracted by the pull of nostalgia and Ronaldo.

The end result was United's worst ever Premier League points return, with Solskjaer lasting only until November and a number of the side's promising talents – including big-money buy Jadon Sancho – enduring difficult campaigns. All the while, Ronaldo tallied more than 20 club goals for a 16th consecutive season.

Rushed through amid rival interest from neighbours Manchester City, Ronaldo's clearly was not a considered transfer, and less than 12 months on it could not be deemed a success, despite the individual displays that have reportedly attracted the attention of Chelsea among others.

There appears to have been a great deal more thought put into United's movement this year – not that their new approach has escaped criticism.

Ten Hag's total control

There is a clear theme running through United's reported shopping list in their first transfer window under ex-Ajax coach Erik ten Hag:

Ajax defender Jurrien Timber, Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez, Feyenoord defender Tyrell Malacia, who was of interest to Ten Hag at Ajax, former Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong, former Ajax midfielder Christian Eriksen, who trained with Ajax again last season, and Ajax winger Antony.

It is only natural to wonder how many of these players would have been targeted had Solskjaer still been in charge, or Ralf Rangnick, or even, say, Mauricio Pochettino.

United, it seems, have granted Ten Hag – one of the few remaining managers in a world of head coaches – complete control.

Of course, this is nothing new at Old Trafford, where David Moyes was allowed to bring along Marouane Fellaini from Everton, Louis van Gaal to recruit Netherlands pair Daley Blind and Memphis Depay, and Jose Mourinho to reunite with Chelsea's Nemanja Matic – who has now joined him again at Roma.

In each case, the absence of a sporting director and an overarching plan was scrutinised.

Now, even with John Murtough in as football director and Darren Fletcher as technical director, United have again changed strategy entirely to suit the wants of the first-team manager – still the most important figure at the club.

This latest development has unsurprisingly been highlighted by United's detractors, but is it really such an issue in this case?

Ajax a class above United

There are worse clubs to be pinching a team's worth of players from than Ajax, renowned for developing world-class talents across several generations.

As recently as three years ago, Ten Hag's Ajax faced Eriksen's Tottenham – also featuring Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez – in the Champions League semi-finals; United last reached the final four of Europe's elite club competition in 2011.

Ajax have been operating without the benefits of United's Premier League broadcasting contracts and, in 2022, have far more modest ambitions, yet they far outperformed the Red Devils in the Champions League across Ten Hag's tenure.

The Eredivisie side won 53.1 per cent of their 32 Champions League matches under their now former coach, with United winning just 38.5 per cent of their own 26 games over the same period. Ajax also scored more goals in the competition (2.0 per game versus 1.5) and conceded fewer (1.1 versus 1.3).

These Ajax players have set a far higher standard than that seen from recent United teams, so why would the club deny Ten Hag the opportunity to attempt to recreate that success at Old Trafford?

And whether by relying heavily on ex-Ajax men or otherwise, United's squad needed to undergo serious surgery to fit with Ten Hag's ideals – the ideals that attracted the 20-time English champions to him in the first place.

No room for Ronaldo?

If Ten Hag can effectively communicate his methods to players old and new, expect United to look very different this season – both with and without the ball.

Only Bayern Munich and Liverpool averaged a greater share of possession than Ajax (61.6 per cent) in the Champions League last season, with United (53.8) back in 10th in this regard.

Martinez (80.3 passes per 90) and Timber (74.7) were Ajax's most prolific passers, helping Ten Hag's men to build from the back. While United's passing leaders were also centre-backs – Raphael Varane (57.9), Victor Lindelof (54.7) and Harry Maguire (51.7) – they trailed a long way behind.

Crucially, Timber (93.3 per cent) and Martinez (91.9) were also the top performing Ajax or United players in terms of passing accuracy. Red Devils captain Maguire's far inferior 87.5 per cent accuracy perhaps shows why Ten Hag has been so keen to recruit one of his former ball-playing defenders.

But Ajax do not dominate just because of how careful they are in possession; they are also hugely proactive off the ball.

Ajax employed the most aggressive press in terms of opposition passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA) in three of Ten Hag's four Champions League campaigns, ranking second behind Bayern Munich in 2020-21.

Indeed, Ten Hag's last season was Ajax's most effective in this regard. They allowed just 7.4 PPDA – Bayern (8.8) were next, with United (12.1) 15th – and started their possessions 48.7 metres upfield on average, 2.0m more advanced than second-placed Chelsea (United were 12th – 43.0m).

Ten Hag clearly feels he needs more energy in midfield (De Jong) and attack (Antony), which makes reports United still want to keep Ronaldo a little odd. He averaged 16.8 pressures per 90 across the 2021-22 Premier League season, by far the fewest of any United attacker – Edinson Cavani, for example, averaged 35.8.

Letting Ronaldo leave might mean acknowledging an almighty error, but it would also represent a huge show of faith in a coach for whose system the five-time Ballon d'Or winner evidently appears unsuited.

And such trust in Ten Hag would certainly seem to fall in line with the rest of United's activity in this window.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCHAUFFELE FINALLY CONVERTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MCILROY DIALS IT IN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jos Buttler's Twenty20 International squad may not share any players with Ben Stokes' Test side, but he will hope England can echo their early red-ball success in another new era.

No sooner had Stokes succeeded Joe Root as Test skipper than Eoin Morgan was also out as England's great limited-overs leader, retiring from international cricket altogether.

New man Buttler does not find a team in need of an overhaul, as Stokes did in the longest format, but he will similarly be keen to make a fast start.

And India – fresh from being thrashed by Stokes' outfit – are fearsome first opponents.

England have not won any of their four prior T20I series against India, losing the past three in a row. In fact, India have lost only one in 14 against all opponents.

And as Morgan's final 20-over series saw a 3-2 defeat to West Indies, England under Buttler will be aiming to avoid back-to-back such losses for the first time since February 2017.

Buttler may well have his work cut out, too, with England resting their Test stars following a busy stretch while India will welcome their main men back for the second of three matches.

Rohit Sharma has tested negative for coronavirus and been cleared to lead the team from the outset, with Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant among those set to join him later on.

England's depth put to the test

Buttler has confirmed his desire for Stokes to be involved with the T20I team, but the Test captain has plenty on his plate right now and – just as Buttler ruled himself out of red-ball action for the foreseeable future – is missing for this series.

He is one of a number of notable absentees against an India side who could be at full strength by the second match and ramping up preparations for the T20 World Cup – a daunting prospect.

But this also provides an opportunity for Buttler to see what talent lies beneath those big names; Richard Gleeson is in for a debut, while Reece Topley impressed on his return to the set-up in the Caribbean.

Topley's bowling economy rate of 4.4 during the powerplay in that series represents the second-best of any player from a Test-playing country since the start of 2020 (Ajaz Patel – 3.1 for New Zealand).

Another entertaining encounter?

With Matthew Mott leading England's white-ball teams, there will be no 'Bazball' in this series, but Morgan's side were always similarly entertaining.

In fact, England (146.3) and India (145.9) have the best batting strike rates of all Test-playing countries in T20Is since the beginning of 2020.

The likes of Buttler and Pant – identified by Stokes as "someone who would fit very well in our team at the moment" – should ensure there are plenty of big scores even without Jonny Bairstow.

Maybe this time football really is 'coming home'.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOST LIKELY CHAMPIONS

1. England (19.3 per cent)

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

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

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

2. France (18.5 per cent)

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

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

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

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

3. Sweden (14.6 per cent)

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

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

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

4. Germany (11.5 per cent)

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

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

5. Spain (8.8 per cent)

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

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

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

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

6. Netherlands 7.2 per cent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exit looming for Telles?

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

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

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

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

Malacia could be.

 

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

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

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

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

A considered threat

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well that was all a bit forgettable, wasn't it?

Mauricio Pochettino is no longer Paris Saint-Germain head coach after the two parties agreed to part ways.

The club confirmed their parting on Tuesday, with former Lyon and Nice coach Christophe Galtier expected to come in as his replacement.

It was an appointment that excited many and seemed to promise much, given the fine job the Argentine had previously done at Tottenham.

But as it transpired, Pochettino simply became the latest in a succession of top-class coaches to fall short of PSG's ultimate goal: winning the Champions League.

Frankly, when rumours of Pochettino's departure began to swirl in June, few would have been surprised. In reality, he's looked close to the brink for most of his 18 months in charge – some might even suggest he's lucky to have lasted this long.
 

Success tempered by failure

Let's not forget, the mighty PSG were pipped to the Ligue 1 title by Lille in the 2020-21 campaign, a few months into Pochettino's reign. His brief time in charge clearly wasn't seen as much of an excuse given there were reports claiming his job was already under threat by April 2021.

Talk of a potential return to Tottenham surfaced and then evaporated as PSG seemingly opted to stand by him, with the fact he got them to the Champions League semi-finals potentially showing there was a reason for optimism.

And then there was the connection with fellow Rosario-native and boyhood Newell's Old Boys fan Lionel Messi. Keeping Pochettino around surely couldn't do any harm with respect to helping the six-time Ballon d'Or winner settle in Paris.

While Pochettino can't solely be blamed for Messi not hitting similar heights to his Barcelona days, it's fair to say their connection has proven only anecdotal.

Of course, Pochettino does depart having won three trophies, including this season's Ligue 1 title. But at PSG, that is not even the bare minimum these days if good progress isn't made in Europe.

Were it not for Karim Benzema's almost superhuman exploits in the Champions League this season, who knows how far PSG would have gone?

They were 2-0 up on aggregate thanks to Kylian Mbappe's brilliance, but then Benzema took over. His 17-minute hat-trick in the second half of the second leg turned the tie on its head, and Madrid went on to enjoy similarly great escapes against Chelsea and Manchester City before beating Liverpool in the final.

Maybe that could have been PSG, but instead they were dumped out in the round of 16 for the fourth time in six seasons. The writing was on the wall for Pochettino.
 

A risk-free move or thankless task?

Joining Manchester United seemed to make sense as they stepped up their search for a permanent replacement for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but Erik ten Hag was ultimately the chosen one, robbing PSG of an easy solution to their problem.

It might be going too far to suggest Pochettino's reputation hasn't been damaged by a lack of (European) success and finishing second in Ligue 1 last season. After all, he has arguably underachieved – but in the context of PSG since the takeover, which coaches haven't?

Former PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti has now won the Champions League twice since leaving the Parisians. Unai Emery took Villarreal to the semi-finals this season. Thomas Tuchel won the competition with Chelsea just a few months after being shown the exit.

While the point isn't necessarily that PSG were wrong to let Ancelotti leave or get rid of Emery and Tuchel when they did. Rather, Pochettino's inability to end the club's Champions League wait needn't define him or colour his reputation.

Pochettino will likely still be sought after the next time one of Europe's biggest clubs is on the look-out for a new head coach, because to succeed at PSG is arguably one of the toughest tasks in football.

Sure, they sit on a pit of money and it seems like they enjoy a clean sweep of the domestic trophies most years, but the gulf to the rest of Ligue 1 is generally so massive that there's a degree of PSG almost being underprepared when heading into European competition.

Perhaps Pochettino was wrong to take the job in the first place. Given their tendency to throw money around with little regard, placing greatest importance on big-reputation signings, there was always likely to be an element of the club being mismatched with a coach whose teams are typically hard-working. But he'd have seen it almost as a free pass.

Ironically, PSG have now insisted they are looking to change their ways, and move away from "bling-bling" signings. Even the possibility of Cristiano Ronaldo potentially becoming available is reportedly not interesting them. We'll see how long that lasts, though.

PSG is a poisoned chalice, but as Pochettino's predecessors have shown, failure at the Parc des Princes needn't be his ruin. It's Galtier's problem now.

"He wants to come."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta did not mince his words when speaking about the possibility of the Blaugrana signing Raphinha.

Last week, Chelsea struck a deal with Leeds United – reported to be worth around £55million with add-ons taking the total fee to more than £60m – to take the Brazil winger from Elland Road to Stamford Bridge.

That agreement seemingly saw Chelsea pip London rivals Arsenal to the post after a high-profile pursuit.

Yet a deal that seemed set for a swift resolution has, as of yet, not been completed, and that is because, if Laporta is to be believed, the 25-year-old is prioritising a switch not to Stamford Bridge, but Camp Nou.

Barca have been consistently linked to Raphinha, who has established himself as one of the most exciting attackers in the Premier League since his move to Leeds from Rennes in September 2020.

Yet Laporta acknowledged that, despite Raphinha's wish to join Barca – whose financial issues make matching Chelsea's offer to Leeds problematic – the race is not won.

"We've spoken to Leeds, I don't think they will be offended," he explained. "We have communication and we have spoken personally. 

"What happens is that there are other clubs that want Raphinha and they are making their proposals."

At this stage, it does seem to be a two-horse race. Previously, with Barca's interest having seemed to have cooled, Arsenal looked well set to beat their rivals Tottenham to the winger, but it was then Chelsea who stole a march.

Bayern Munich have been credited with an interest in the past, but Sadio Mane's switch to Bavaria has ruled the German champions out.

But just why has Raphinha, a somewhat under-the-radar arrival in Yorkshire under two years ago, been so coveted?
 

Brazilian stardust meets street fighter spirit

Brazil. The home of the Copacabana, festivals and beautiful football. Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Pele, Kaka, Neymar, Zico, Socrates... the list of world-class talent produced by the South American nation is endless. They are five-time world champions for a reason.

But while Brazilian flair remains in abundance, the most recent success stories when it comes to the players that have struck gold, in the Premier League at least, have been those who have merged that national talent with steel, grit and robustness perhaps more associated with the likes of Argentina, Uruguay or the northern European nations.

Raphinha fits that bill, and like Premier League-based compatriots Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, always seemed set to move for pastures new this off-season.

His talent cannot be doubted. Since making his Leeds debut, he has directly contributed to 29 Premier League goals, scoring 17 times and providing 12 assists, at least five more than any team-mates in the period.

 

The variety of his strikes has also been hugely impressive, with seven of his league goals for Leeds coming from outside the area. Only one player – Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse – can boast a better total (nine) in the same time frame.

Raphinha's 11 league goals last season marked his best performance since the 15 he netted in the 2017-18 campaign, when he played for Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal. He did not score as freely for Sporting CP, and only managed seven goals during his sole full season with Rennes in France.

Leeds' system, particularly under former manager Marcelo Bielsa and even still under Jesse Marsch, is physically demanding.

Raphinha, however, proved more than up to the task. Indeed, last season, he was a standout performer when it came to both targeted off-ball runs into the final third, and the number of sprints made per 90 minutes. 

A tireless runner, Raphinha offers both sides of the game.

He compares competitively when stacked up against Tottenham new boy Richarlison, one of the hardest working wide players in the Premier League across his time with Everton and a player that Raphinha competes with for a place in the Brazil side.

Raphinha's duel success rate of 42.6 per cent falls just short of Richarlison's 43.4 per cent, since the winger's league debut for Leeds on October 19, 2020, while the pair have won the same number of tackles (42), albeit Richarlison's success percentage of 59.7 compared to Raphinha's 54.1 puts him ahead in that regard.

Nevertheless, whichever club gets Raphinha is buying not just attacking output, but defensive steel.
 

Top-class creativity 

As mentioned, Raphinha's attacking output is up there with the best the Premier League has had to offer in recent seasons, especially when Leeds' struggles last season are taken into account.

Only four forwards have created more goals in the competition than Raphinha since his Premier League debut, and just one – Tottenham star Son Heung-min (131) – has created more chances in total than his tally of 129.

Of those opportunities, 85 came from open play, ranking him third in the division's attackers behind Mane (93) and Mohamed Salah (101), with his 22 big chances trailing only Salah and Harry Kane (both 26).

 

Raphinha has attempted 286 dribbles, the third-highest total in the league behind Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin, though his success rate (41.3) trails some way behind that duo.

Four forwards had more than Raphinha's 155 shots, though his conversion rate of just under 11 per cent shows an area of improvement if he is to succeed at one of Europe's elite clubs.
 

World Cup hopes

It was in Portugal, not his homeland, that Raphinha made his name, but ahead of Qatar 2022, he seems a shoo-in to make Tite's squad.

He has won nine caps since his first selection in October last year, when he assisted twice on just his second appearance in a 3-1 win over Venezuela before scoring twice on his full debut in a 4-1 rout of Uruguay. Raphinha's third international strike came in a 4-0 defeat of Paraguay.

While a place on the plane to Qatar should be secured, barring injury, Raphinha will be determined to ensure he is fighting for a place in Tite's starting XI.

Brazil's coach has plenty of options to choose from for both flanks; the aforementioned Richarlison and Jesus can play central or wide, while Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior is surely a certainty to start on the left. Ajax's Antony, Madrid's Rodrygo and Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli and Everton, now back in Brazil with Flamengo, are all likely to be in that fight, too. 

Should he get his move to either London or Barcelona, Raphinha will get the opportunity to show Tite he truly can perform on the biggest stage.

When it comes to recruitment and squad construction, there aren't many clubs – if any – that are run more effectively than Manchester City.

Their Premier League title success in the 2021-22 season was just another reminder of how good they are on the pitch, yet the people in charge are not the types to simply sit around admiring their achievements.

Even before winning a fourth Premier League crown in five years – a feat only ever previously managed by Alex Ferguson's Manchester United – it was clear where City were going to strengthen.

A deal for arguably the most sought-after striker in world football, Erling Haaland, was wrapped up two weeks before the season ended, and then with Fernandinho expected to depart, another central midfielder was to be the second priority.

Kalvin Phillips proved to be the chosen one, with City confirming on Monday that the England international has completed his reported £45million move from Leeds United, having undergone a medical on Friday.

It's an impressive statement by City, who have already bolstered their two primary problem areas – if you can call them that – by the first week of July.

And with respect to Phillips' signing, there's a lot to suggest it's a shrewd acquisition.

 

Moulded by Bielsa

Of course, the most obvious – and arguably crucial – link here is Marcelo Bielsa. It was under the Argentinian coach that Phillips has played the best football of his career and cemented himself as an England regular.

Bielsa is also considered one of Pep Guardiola's greatest inspirations, with an apparent 11-hour meeting between the pair back in 2006 said to have played a major role in the City boss' decision to go into management.

The similarities between the two coaches' styles of play are significant, and this should facilitate a smooth transition for Phillips.

Under Bielsa he'll have become accustomed to not only intense training sessions, but also a playing philosophy that revolves around possession-based football and relentless counter pressing.

In terms of the latter, City are perhaps a little more considered in their efforts compared to Bielsa's Leeds, but either way Phillips has been exposed to the same fundamentals, and that can only be a tick in the pros column.

After all, a second-season bounce has become commonplace for signings under Guardiola. Numerous players have needed a full campaign to truly get to grips with the demands required by the Catalan coach before going on to show significant improvement and growth thereafter – Phillips might be better-equipped than most to hit the ground running.

But that brings up a separate issue; what will Phillips be to City?

Rodri the immovable object

Having come through Leeds' academy, established himself as a key player and then gone on to be a fulcrum in Bielsa's team, Phillips was the first name on the teamsheet – when fit – for several years at Elland Road.

Regardless of his suitability for City, it seems unlikely he'll enjoy a similar status in Guardiola's team. Phillips is at his most effective as lone defensive midfielder, but so too is Rodri, and it's difficult to imagine the Spain international being suddenly taken out of the team given how effective he's proven to be.

Rodri's 2,937 successful passes in the opposition's half since the start of the 2020-21 season is over 400 more than any other Premier League player, and his 577 ball recoveries over the same period is the joint-most alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, though the Dane has played almost 1,000 minutes more.

Of course, who's to say Phillips couldn't play the role even more effectively? But the key thing to consider is that Rodri has an important function in both keeping City on the ball and then winning it back when they don't, and he demonstrably does both well.

Nevertheless, Guardiola's proven he's a coach keen to rotate. He gave at least 900 minutes of Premier League football to 18 players last season, with only four teams bettering that, so Phillips can still expect plenty of game time.

And, to be fair, Phillips might not have even been up to the task of being a regular starter for City given how much time he spent sidelined last season.

A match made in heaven

Clearly, then, Guardiola's rotation policy would suggest Phillips will have opportunities to deputise for Rodri and take up the back-up role vacated by Fernandinho, yet there's no doubt he possesses the skillset to also play alongside the former Atletico Madrid midfielder as well.

First and foremost, he's a more progressive player than Rodri. Over the past two seasons, 28 per cent of Phillips' passes have been forward, the exact same figure as Fernandinho and a fair bit more than Rodri's 20 per cent.

Similarly, in the same period Phillips has played 3.5 passes into the box every 90 minutes, whereas Rodri has averaged two, and his 1.0 dribble attempts each game is also slightly more than his new team-mate (0.9).

But in a way it shouldn't necessarily matter which midfield role Phillips plays in, given he has a range of abilities that should suit him either as a number six or a number eight, especially in a Guardiola team.

On top of that, Phillips doesn't turn 27 until December, so he is very much entering his prime years, and if anyone can squeeze every ounce of potential out of a player, it's Guardiola.

Then when you consider Phillips' history with Bielsa and type of team he played in at Leeds, everything points to this being a match made in heaven.

A year later than planned, the pandemic-delayed Women's European Championship takes place in England this month, at a time when the women's game is enjoying a popularity surge.

Barcelona Femeni packed out Camp Nou twice for Champions League games in the season just ended, in what was the most eye-catching sign of years of steady growth.

Many players who a decade ago would have needed part-time work to supplement their playing wages are now enjoying the trappings of being full-time professionals.

It means these players are physically sharper, more tactically astute, and skill levels are soaring skywards, making Euro 2022 an unmissable prospect.

Here, Stats Perform looks at seven players who could emerge as dominant stars of the tournament.

Alexia Putellas, Spain and Barcelona

Generally considered to be the world's best player, Putellas became the first Spain women's international to reach 100 caps on Friday when she played and scored in a 1-1 friendly draw against Italy. She runs the show for Barcelona, captaining the team, and delivered a flood of goals from midfield. She hit 34 goals across all competitions last season, including a four-minute hat-trick against Valencia, and in the Champions League she was named player of the season, despite her team's 3-1 defeat to Lyon in the final.

Irene Paredes, Spain and Barcelona

If Putellas pulls the strings in the opposition half, it will likely fall to Paredes to organise at the other end of the field, as favourites Spain look to keep it tight at the back. The Barcelona centre-back is set to captain Spain, who are seeking their first European Championship title. After joining last year from Paris Saint-Germain, Paredes helped Barcelona to a polished Primera Division campaign of 30 wins from 30 games, with only 11 goals conceded. Almost 11 years since making her debut in Euro 2013 qualifying, Spain will look for Paredes to lead by example.

Pernille Harder, Denmark and Chelsea

Harder is a serial winner at club level, having won four consecutive league and cup doubles with Wolfsburg before joining Chelsea for a reported world-record fee in September 2020 and adding back-to-back WSL and FA Cup doubles. The classy forward will create chances for others but is also a deadly finisher, scoring 68 goals in 134 internationals. Runners-up last time, Denmark will look to Harder to ensure they are in the mix again this month.

Ada Hegerberg, Norway and Lyon

Hegerberg is the returning Norway heroine, coming back into the fold in March after almost five years in self-imposed exile, having previously been upset by the national federation's treatment of the women's game. A true superstar of the game, the Lyon striker and former Ballon d'Or Feminin winner suffered an ACL injury in early 2020 that kept her sidelined for 20 months, but she is emphatically back now, as she proved when scoring in the Champions League final win over Barcelona – a 59th European club competition goal in her 60th such game.

Beth Mead, England and Arsenal

Once a teenage revelation at Sunderland, now at Arsenal, Mead had to wait until just before her 23rd birthday before earning a first England cap. In the four years since that debut, she has floated in and out of the team, with the Lionesses having serious riches with their attacking options. This could be the Whitby-born player's tournament, with Sarina Wiegman expected to include her in an attacking three behind a main striker. Mead has hit three hat-tricks for England in the last nine months and is also a highly creative player from the flanks. She is one of a handful of England attackers who could light up the tournament.

Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands and Arsenal

Mead's club-mate has enjoyed a stunning five-year spell in the English top flight, hitting a record 74 Women's Super League goals in 89 games. In May, the former Bayern Munich player agreed a new deal with the Gunners, and now she will spearhead the Netherlands' European title defence. Described by team-mate Jill Roord as "an absolute killer", Miedema helped the Netherlands reach the 2019 World Cup final and scored a record 10 goals at the Tokyo Olympics, despite the Dutch campaign ending with a quarter-final penalty shoot-out loss to the United States. Miedema surprisingly missed from the spot, so she is not perfect, but defences will fear her presence over the coming weeks.

Marie-Antoinette Katoto, France and Paris Saint-Germain

The PSG and France men's teams have Kylian Mbappe, and the women have Marie-Antoinette Katoto, a record-breaking superstar in her own right. Both are 23 years old, both have over 100 goals for PSG, and both could lead their country to trophy glory this year. Katoto became PSG's record scorer in the women's game last season, and last week agreed a new contract tying her to the capital club until 2025. There lies another Mbappe parallel, with PSG determined to keep the striker out of the clutches of rival clubs, knowing she is the sort of talent that could make an explosive impact on Euro 2022.

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