Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes know they must "take a beating" in order to recover the lost ground they trail Red Bull and Ferrari by ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion will start seventh on the grid following another disappoint qualifying session in Baku, while team-mate George Russell will start in fifth.

Mercedes have remained dramatically off the pace of their rivals, with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc sealing a fourth consecutive pole position in his title race with Max Verstappen.

Hamilton – who won on this track in 2018 – admitted he and his team are continuing to draw the same conclusions from their struggles, in what could be a bad omen for their prospects over the rest of the season.

"I'm not surprised [about the gap], I mean it was the same in Monaco," he told Sky Sports. "It was a really difficult qualifying session, we're constantly pushing.

"We have a very, very small window where we can work this car and everything we try doesn't give us what we want.

"So, we're making lots of changes, but we're always out with the same conclusion, which is most often bouncing, which loses us a lot of performance.

"All the performance is when you get the car low… so we said let's take a beating in our necks and backs to get the car as low as possible for the performance."

Russell, who is out to better his best-ever 15th-place finish at the circuit, posted in 2019, suggested improvements were harder to decipher from within the cockpit.

"The lap felt good, the car felt good but obviously it is pretty shocking when you cross the line and you are one and a bit seconds behind pole position," Russell said.

"We expect so much of ourselves and we are working so hard to bring more performance, but definitely this weekend has brought out the strengths and the weaknesses of all of us.

"To be honest, it truly is just not going fast enough.

"It feels ok from within, except when we are going down the straights because every single bump is the most rigid I have ever felt from any race car before.

"In the breaking zones, it is so bumpy down those straights and feels awful from within but through the corners itself the car feels good.

"So we know it isn't a balance thing getting the car in the right window with the set up, it is more we don't have the downforce and we are balancing a lot of limitations to try and get the downforce.

"We know there is a lot there but we don't know how to extract it."

In an ordinary World Cup year, we would either already be engrossed in the group stages or be a matter of days away from the big kick-off.

But this is no ordinary World Cup year. We still have two of the 32 places to be confirmed for Qatar 2022, which is due to begin in November.

Tuesday's intercontinental play-off between Costa Rica and New Zealand will complete line-up, with their contest falling exactly four years to the day since Russia thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening game of the 2018 World Cup.

Before that meeting, however, New Zealand's neighbours Australia face Peru in the penultimate play-off on Monday.

Both matches will give the victorious teams a vital taste of what it's like to play in Qatar, with the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium playing host to both winner-takes-all encounters.

Peruvian shamans are expectant

It will be a long day for any Australia fans hoping to catch the game before work – kick-off will be at 4am AEST.

Those who do brave the early start will surely be doing so out of loyalty and hope, rather than expectation.

The Socceroos' route through the Asian qualification phase was unconvincing to say the least. They scraped third place in the third round, finishing just a point ahead of Oman and seven adrift of Japan.

Australia met the United Arab Emirates in the fourth-round play-off and edged the game 2-1 to find themselves in the familiar locale of an intercontinental play-off.

This was how they reached Russia 2018, beating Honduras over two legs, with their 3-1 win at home in the second leg proving decisive after a 0-0 draw in San Pedro Sula.

Monday's game will be only the second time Australia have ever played Peru. Coincidentally, that other instance was in Russia four years ago – Los Incas won 2-0 to claim a first World Cup win since 1978, although the result mattered not as it was the final group game and neither side could reach the knockouts.

Whichever team prevails this time will be in a familiar-looking group. France and Denmark, the other two teams in Group C four years ago, await in Group D alongside Tunisia.

A group of 13 Peruvian shamans believe it will be Peru, with a spiritual ceremony – which involved poking a picture of the Australia team with a sword – conducted on Saturday, apparently reaching the conclusion the Socceroos will be unsuccessful.

If it is Peru who make it, it will be just the second time they have ever qualified for successive World Cups, a remarkable achievement in itself given the country's domestic league is regarded as one of if not the weakest in South America at the moment: none of their four representatives in the Copa Libertadores this year claimed a single victory.

And yet Ricardo Gareca ensured his team finished ahead of Colombia and Chile in qualifying. The much-vaunted Ecuador only registered two points more than Peru.

Los Ticos back from the back

New Zealand fans will have a similar conundrum to their Aussie counterparts. Do they get up excruciatingly early to endure their nail-biting contest with Costa Rica, or do they just try to sleep through it and get the result a few hours later?

Either way, it's fair to expect a few more Costa Rican eyes to be on the game. The country's president Rodrigo Chaves has authorised an extra hour's lunch on Tuesday for public servants and private sector workers to allow fans to tune in.

The fact Costa Rica even made it this far is commendable given the difficult start they had to the third round of CONCACAF qualifying.

After one win from their first seven matches, a 90th-minute winner by Gerson Torres in a 2-1 defeat of Honduras last November proved to be the turning point.

Including that game, Costa Rica won six of their final seven qualifiers. The only game they didn't win was a 0-0 draw away to Mexico – in the end, Los Ticos only finished behind the third-placed United States on goal difference.

Success on Tuesday will see Costa Rica reach three consecutive World Cups for the first time, and in all likelihood they will make that four in 2026 given hosts Canada, Mexico and USA will qualify automatically.

New Zealand's preparations certainly don't go back as far as Costa Rica's, given the Oceania qualification section was only able to begin in March.

The All Whites cruised through, as they usually do, racking up 5-0 and 7-1 wins along the way, but Costa Rica will provide much sterner opposition.

Danny Hay's men have since played warm-up games against Peru and Oman, losing 1-0 to the former and drawing 0-0 with the latter.

It was Peru who prevented New Zealand reaching Russia 2018.

While they will once again be considered underdogs, there's arguably greater reason for optimism this time around now they are not facing a CONMEBOL nation and have just one match to play, rather than a two-legged affair.

In that sense, this is almost certainly the biggest match New Zealand have played since beating Bahrain 1-0 over two legs in November 2009 to qualify for South Africa 2010.

On that occasion they ended the World Cup as the only undefeated side after drawing all three of their group games.

A rather trickier group awaits this time with Spain, Germany and Japan already in place, but New Zealand won't care in the slightest if they just get the chance to cause an upset.

Gareth Southgate dismissed suggestions England's recent struggles are down to a conservative approach, instead ruing a lack of sharpness in the final third. 

England drew 0-0 with Italy on Saturday as the Three Lions were left rooted to the foot of their Nations League group with just two points from three games. 

Across the trio of matches played this month, England have scored just one goal – Harry Kane's penalty in the 1-1 draw with Germany. 

The Three Lions' performances have been widely criticised, and while they did create chances against the Azzurri, they were at times second best to a team undergoing something of a transformation. 

A common criticism of England throughout Southgate's time in charge has been that they lack an identity beyond their often pragmatic approach, but he did not want to entertain such an idea this time. 

Asked if he saw the performance as cautious, Southgate told Channel 4: "I don't see how you can really. 

"We tried to move the ball through a very good, well-organised team. We've got the ball into our forward players and we've given all of them a go, tried to refresh it because we know the state of the season we're at. 

"So, I think at the moment that little bit of sharpness in the final third isn't quite there, but I was pleased with the general performance." 

Tammy Abraham started in place of Kane in attack, with the Roma striker supported by Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish. 

While Sterling and Mount each managed three shots and Grealish laid on a game-high four key passes, Abraham mustered only two shots. 

One was a harmless off-target header and the other a wasteful finish after robbing Italy of possession inside their own area, as he scuffed wide of the right-hand post. 

Nevertheless, Southgate seemed encouraged by Abraham's display. 

"I said earlier in the week, we've been too reliant on Harry and Raheem for our goals," he continued. 

"Other players have got to step into that phase. A number of them do it for their clubs but at international level they've not managed to convert that. 

"So we've looked dangerous without getting the goals that are needed in the bigger games. 

"I thought Tammy was fine. I haven't seen that chance back from right at the start, but that's probably the one [England should have taken]. 

"We felt we needed to refresh the team when we did it [brought Abraham off] but I wasn't unhappy with Tammy's performance at all." 

England will hope to finally get their first win of their Nations League campaign on Tuesday when they host Hungary, to whom they lost in Budapest last weekend. 

The Netherlands' draw with Poland felt like a defeat for Memphis Depay after he missed a potentially game-winning penalty in second-half stoppage time. 

Poland left Robert Lewandowski on the bench but went ahead in the first half through Matty Cash, and extended their lead via Piotr Zielinski four minutes after the restart at De Kuip.

Goals from Davy Klaassen and Denzel Dumfries restored parity just five minutes later and Cash's handball gave Depay a chance to secure all three points in the Nations League Group A4 game. 

However, the Barcelona attacker's spot-kick hit the post, making him the first Netherlands player to miss three penalties. 

"I missed it and unfortunately that can happen. I had the winner on my foot but I didn't score it," Depay told NOS. 

"I practice penalties and score them often enough. It just has to go in, because then we win the match. Now it feels like a defeat. 

"They sat back, especially in the first half, and then the spaces are small. They also took the lead when they hadn't really had a chance before it and they were then 10 [players] behind the ball. 

"We said at half-time that we had to stay calm. It was a blow [Poland going 2-0 up]. We fought, continue to play football and always believed in ourselves, but it was difficult."

Depay denied that wearing the captain's armband added any pressure after he failed to net the goal he needs to draw level with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in second place on the Netherlands' all-time scoring list.

"I don't think one has to do with the other," he said. "Captain or not, I always want to play well. This time it wasn't the case, but that can happen."

The Netherlands retained their three-point lead at the top of the group because Belgium were held to a 1-1 draw by Wales. 

Louis van Gaal admitted the mood in the dressing room was downcast, but was pleased with the character his team showed to mount a comeback.

"Memphis didn't play his best game. He should've scored the winner at the end. Luckily it's happening now. At the World Cup he will get them in," said Van Gaal.

"The guys sat in the dressing room afterwards as if they had lost, but we came back from 2-0 down. This was the first time we played against a team that was defending with 10 men.

"I'm very proud of my team for the resilience, the spirit and the way we played in the second half."

Germany were held to their third consecutive 1-1 draw in the Nations League as Hungary earned a point at the Puskas Arena on Saturday.

An early goal from Zsolt Nagy was quickly cancelled out by Jonas Hofmann, but the visitors were unable to find a winner despite dominating the ball.

Hansi Flick's men looked devoid of ideas for the most part and remain third in Nations League Group A3 behind Hungary and Italy.

Marco Rossi's team could be pleased with their night's work, on the other hand, and could consider themselves unfortunate not to have taken all three points.

A strong start for Hungary was rewarded as they took the lead after just six minutes when a long ball down the right found the run of Attila Fiola. His cross was headed at goal by Roland Sallai, and Manuel Neuer palmed the ball only as far as Nagy, who controlled before firing into the roof of the net.

However, Germany were level just three minutes later as Hofmann ran onto a long ball from Nico Schlotterbeck to prod past the onrushing Peter Gulacsi and net his second goal in his past two games for his country.

Clever play from Jamal Musiala helped create an opportunity for David Raum to cut inside and bend an effort just wide of Gulacsi's far post, before Neuer saved a Fiola volley well with his leg just before the break.

The second half was largely spent in the Hungarian half, but Germany created very little until Kai Havertz played Hofmann in on goal with just under 20 minutes to play, only for the goalscorer to make a mess of his attempted pass to Timo Werner, allowing Willi Orban to clear.

Substitute Daniel Gazdag forced Neuer into another good save in the final 10 minutes, but both teams were made to settle for a point.

Memphis Depay missed a stoppage-time penalty that would have completed a sensational turnaround for the Netherlands, who consequently drew 2-2 with Poland. 

Despite leaving Robert Lewandowski on the bench for the entire Nations League Group A4 match, Poland put themselves in a commanding position through goals from Matty Cash and Piotr Zielinski. 

However, Davy Klaassen equalised two minutes later and within five the Netherlands were level thanks to Denzel Dumfries. 

A handball by Cash gifted Depay a chance to score the winner from the penalty spot, but the Barcelona attacker hit the upright and the spoils were shared. 

Poland took the lead when Cash picked up the ball on the right and drilled his first international goal into the bottom-left corner with a fine finish. 

Netherlands responded well but were two behind when Zielinski was teed up for a simple finish by Przemyslaw Frankowski following an excellent ball in behind by Krzysztof Piatek – though VAR was required to overturn an offside decision in the build-up. 

Klaassen quickly reduced the arrears when he volleyed Daley Blind's cross home and Louis van Gaal's men were soon level as Dumfries' deflected effort was permitted by VAR after the offside flag initially went up. 

Cash handled the ball after Lukasz Skorupski kept Depay at bay and referee Halil Umut Meler pointed to the spot having reviewed footage of the incident. 

Depay was unable to take advantage of the opportunity and he also had a header tipped over by Skorupski as Netherlands ended up missing out on the win. 

Substitute Brennan Johnson struck late on to get Wales off the mark in the Nations League with their first point in a deserved 1-1 draw against Belgium.

The Red Devils have often struggled against Wales in recent times, namely at Euro 2016 when losing at the quarter-final stage, and they were again frustrated on Saturday.

Youri Tielemans' 50th-minute strike looked as though it would prove enough for Belgium, who were without the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku in Cardiff.

But Wales, who had an early Ethan Ampadu strike contentiously ruled out by VAR, equalised in the 86th minute through Johnson's effort to leave the visitors frustrated.

England's bid to gain a measure of revenge for their Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy fell flat as the Three Lions were held to a disappointing 0-0 draw by an experimental Azzurri outfit at Molineux on Saturday.

Exactly 11 months on from Italy beating England on penalties at Wembley, Gareth Southgate's men failed to kick-start their Nations League campaign against a side who have not qualified for Qatar 2022 and were battered by Argentina in the Finalissima.

England had chances but were arguably second-best in the first half, as they were cheered on by a massively reduced crowd made up mostly by children as a consequence of the crowd trouble at last July's final.

The hosts had the better of the second period but nonetheless slumped to three successive games without a win for only the second time under Southgate.

A gripping start saw Davide Frattesi and Tammy Abraham miss presentable close-range chances, before Gianluigi Donnarumma tipped a Mason Mount effort onto the crossbar all inside the first 10 minutes.

The flurry was followed by something of a lull, but Italy threatened again just before the half-hour mark as Aaron Ramsdale produced a fine stop to thwart Sandro Tonali from point-blank range.

Italy finished the half dangerously, too. Gianluca Scamacca smashed over from eight yards and Matteo Pessina saw his drive turned over.

England should have made it 1-0 early in the second half, but Raheem Sterling failed to convert from Reece James' delivery across goal.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo then made a mess of Lorenzo Pellegrini's lofted pass into the box, neither squaring to the unmarked Scamacca nor getting a shot away, and the game ultimately petered out to a goalless draw.

Charles Leclerc is desperate to "finish the job" after surging to pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. 

In Baku on Sunday, the Ferrari driver will start from the front of the grid for the fourth successive grand prix. 

Leclerc has failed to turn each of his previous three pole positions into a victory, something that has become a familiar story for the Monegasque. 

From his 14 pole positions in Formula One, he has managed just four victories (29 per cent) – only Jarno Trulli (25 per cent – one win from four poles) has a worse ratio among drivers to have topped the podium at least once. 

Leclerc is keen to avoid another disappointment and believes upgrades made by Ferrari can help him get over the line this time. 

"I just want to finish the job. The past two weekends I've already said that on the Saturday and it didn't happen on the Sunday," said Leclerc. 

"So, we need to make it… I mean, we don't need to make it work but it will be very nice if we make it work. Let's see how it goes in the first few laps, and then I will try to keep the lead.   

"I think since we have the new package, we've tried different things. And from my feeling it feels better in the race. But we still need to confirm it. But the feeling is there and it's good, so I'm optimistic." 

Verstappen qualified third for the second successive Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Last year he crashed out from the lead with three laps remaining, handing Sergio Perez the win. 

The reigning champion does not expect to make his move early but still believes he will be in with a good shot of a fourth victory in five races. 

"I think last year I started third here, so a lot of things happen. If you have good pace, I do think you can do something out there in the race," said Verstappen. 

"We'll just look through the data to optimise everything and make sure that the car is good on the tyres. 

"The run to Turn 1 is super short, so there's not a lot you can do there, but it's a long race. Baku has shown that a lot of things happen. We just need to stay calm and focus on having a good race car." 

Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic claims he has an "addiction" to scoring goals.

The Serbia international has certainly done a good job of feeding that addiction, bagging 38 goals in 58 Serie A appearances for Fiorentina in the past two seasons before scoring seven in 15 for Juve following his big-money move in January.

Vlahovic joined the Bianconeri from Fiorentina for a reported fee of €70million and settled well into life in Turin, helping his new side clinch fourth place and a Champions League spot.

Speaking to Icon Magazine, the 22-year-old did not hold back when asked what scoring goals means to him.

"It's something that fills me," he said. "It pervades me completely, so when I don't feel this emotion, after the game, I feel on the ground, empty.

"It feels like flying. I feel in seventh heaven, I fly. It's a kind of fuel, and once you've tried it, you have to have more, and then again, you have to live that emotion at all costs. It is an addiction that stimulates you at all times. That's what I live for."

 

Vlahovic arrived with a big reputation and reached double figures for goal involvements in all competitions in his 21 outings for Juve in the second half of the 2021-22 season.

His 10 goals and assists combined were at least two more than any other Juve player between his debut in early February and the end of the campaign.

"I dedicate myself to football 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he added, "and when I go home, what do I do? I watch football games.

"I watch them to have fun, to relax, but also to learn and improve. I notice things, analyse them and think about them."

Daryl Mitchell fell just shy of a double hundred and Tom Blundell scored a century as New Zealand left England with an uphill battle in the second Test.

The tourists resumed day one on 318-4 with Mitchell closing in on a century, and he went well beyond that mark to post 190, the third-highest Test score by a New Zealand player in England.

He was joined on three figures by Blundell, who reached 106 before falling to Jack Leach as England toiled.

Matthew Potts finally brought an end to Mitchell's remarkable stay at the crease as New Zealand were bowled out for 553, their highest Test score in England. The hosts lost Zak Crawley (four) early in their reply before Alex Lees (34 not out) and Ollie Pope (51 no) guided them to stumps on 90-1, trailing by 463.

Mitchell treated the Trent Bridge crowd to one of the great New Zealand Test knocks, though the shot that brought his 184-ball hundred was not one to remember as he edged Potts for four.

Potts then dropped Mitchell on 104 at long-on, allowing a regulation catch to go to the boundary. Mitchell and Blundell continued to punish England following that missed opportunity, the latter reaching his century in 191 balls.

Their stand of 236 marked New Zealand's highest fifth-wicket partnership in Tests and was eventually ended when Leach removed Blundell, though the same bowler was on the receiving end of a barrage from Mitchell after lunch.

Michael Bracewell (49) took over the supporting role, but the wickets tumbled after he fell to James Anderson, with Mitchell receiving acclaim from England players and fans upon his exit.

Crawley went to a superb Trent Boult delivery in the second over of the reply, before Mitchell committed a pair of drops at first slip, the first a simple catch that would have dismissed Lees and the second handing a reprieve to Pope, who reached a fluid 66-ball half-century with a cut through backward point.

Mitchell masters with the bat... but fumbles in the field

Mitchell spent 477 minutes at the crease, hitting 23 fours and four sixes, but he may have been thinking more about his sub-par efforts in the slips as the teams left the field. New Zealand will hope his drops do not facilitate England denying them victory.

Crawley crumbles again

Crawley could not do much about a peach of a delivery from Boult. However, he continues to struggle opening the batting in 2022. It is now six single-figure scores in his past nine Test innings.

Barcelona are confident of tying star teenager Gavi to a new contract at Camp Nou, according to Joan Laporta.

Gavi enjoyed a breakout season with the Blaugrana in 2021-22, starting 36 matches and appearing in 47.

The 17-year-old is the youngest of a number of exciting talents at Xavi's disposal, with only Borussia Dortmund striker Youssoufa Moukoko – also 17 – scoring in Europe's top five leagues at a younger age this term.

In netting against the Czech Republic last week, Gavi became Spain's youngest ever scorer, taking the record from Barca team-mate Ansu Fati.

But the midfielder is only under contract in Catalonia for another 12 months, meaning Barca must act swiftly – as they are doing.

Laporta, the club president, told reporters: "We're optimistic, because we want Gavi to stay at Barcelona.

"We are very excited about him staying, he's from our academy. The player and his agent, who we know, also want to stay at Barcelona.

"We are very close to reaching an agreement."

However, Laporta did not have quite such positive news on the future of out-of-contract winger Ousmane Dembele – once a club-record €105million signing.

"Dembele has an offer to stay, but we have no news that he's accepted it," the Barca chief said. "We haven't had a reply from him."

Thibaut Courtois is unlikely to win the Ballon d'Or because goalkeepers will always lose out to goalscoring outfielders, says Petr Cech. 

It was suggested Courtois could be in with a chance of winning the award following his man-of-the-match performance in Real Madrid's 1-0 Champions League final victory over Liverpool, although he said it was "impossible".

He made nine saves in the match – the most by a goalkeeper in a final in the competition since at least the 2003-04 season – and prevented 2.5 goals according to Opta's expected goals on target metric. 

Courtois also led the way in goals prevented as Madrid won LaLiga, with his 4.9 putting him top of the charts. 

Cech praised the former Chelsea goalkeeper but suggested the Ballon d'Or is likely out of his reach, with Karim Benzema the favourite to take the accolade. 

"Well, he was a key player obviously for his team, because he made vital and important saves in the [Liverpool] game, and of course, without his saves, they would have lost," Cech told Stats Perform ahead of Sunday's Soccer Aid charity match.

"You always need everybody to perform in the big game, in the Champions League final, and he was the main man and obviously deservedly won the player of the match. 

"He's had an amazing campaign, literally from the start to finish, and in the Champions League, so it was not a surprise. 

"I think that there will always be an issue with goalkeepers being involved in [the Ballon d'Or], because in the past, [Gianluigi] Buffon, even [Iker] Casillas, there were some goalkeepers who probably should have been much closer to winning the award. 

"But we know that for the goalkeeper it is very particular to be compared with the players and to get anywhere near them. 

"Everybody loves to see goals and assists and great skills going forward, and this is what football is about." 

Andy Murray reached his first tour-level final on grass since 2016 with a straight-sets victory over Nick Kyrgios at the Stuttgart Open on Saturday.

The three-time major winner stunned Stefanos Tsitsipas in the previous round – his first win over a top-five opponent in six years – and followed that up with another fine victory.

Murray, who last contested a final on grass when winning Wimbledon for a second time, prevailed 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 against Kyrgios.

He moves up to 47th in the live ATP rankings – the first time he has been in the top 50 since May 2018 – and will face Matteo Berrettini in what will be his 70th career final.

Aiming to keep alive his hopes of a ninth career title on grass, Murray saved both break points faced in the first set and showed good resolve to edge Kyrgios in the tie-break.

The second set was not as tightly contested, with the 35-year-old showing few signs of fatigue as he twice broke Kyrgios' serve to reach Sunday's final in Germany.

 

Berrettini had earlier defeated Oscar Otte 7-6 (9-7) 7-6 (7-5) to reach his first tour-level final of an injury-hit season.

The world number 10 fired 18 aces en route to overcoming home favourite Otte in a time of one hour and 48 minutes.

"I am really happy," Berrettini said in his on-court interview. "Arriving at the tournament, that was the goal [to reach the final].

"From thinking about it and actually making it is a big difference. I am happy I am here and have another chance to play another final after months without playing.

"This means this is my level and I have proved once again I am comfortable at this level and on this surface. I really like it here at Stuttgart."

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has heard plenty of criticism from NFL pundits and fans about his arm strength and his deep throws.

One person not questioning his arm is new team-mate Tyreek Hill.

Speaking on his new podcast, 'It Needed To Be Said', Hill was asked by co-host Julius Collins who has the stronger arm, Tagovailoa or Hill's former quarterback with the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes.

"Obviously, I'm going to go with 15 as the strongest arm, but as far as accuracy-wise, I'm going with Tua all day," Hill said.

Acquired in a trade with the Chiefs in March, Hill defended his new quarterback, saying he has plenty of arm strength and is adept at running an offense.

"I've had a chance to see Tua throw the ball, to myself, but he's that dude, bro," Hill said.

"What a lot of people don't know – I'm not just sitting just saying this because he's my quarterback now, I'm not trying to get more targets right now – what I'm trying to say is Tua is that deal, bro.

"Bro, he has a heck of an arm. He's accurate. He can throw the deep ball, and he actually goes through his reads, where people are on Twitter saying, 'Oh, he doesn't go through his reads'. Man, this dude is that dude."

Tagovailoa has come under fire for having nominal success on deep balls despite this being considered the golden age of passing with all the rules that give offenses an edge in the wide-open NFL.

Among the 30 quarterbacks with at least 300 attempts last season, only the New York Giants' Daniel Jones had fewer pass plays of 25-plus yards than Tagovailoa's 16, with 15.

Tagovailoa attempted just 11 passes of more than 20 yards in 2021, completing three of them for 112 yards with an interception. Meanwhile, Mahomes went 27 for 63 (42.9 per cent) for 1,098 yards with seven TD passes and two picks on throws of at least 20 yards.

However, Tagovailoa did throw more catchable balls on all throws last season, ranking fifth in well-thrown percentage at 81.0 per cent, while Mahomes ranked 12th at 79.5 per cent.

Hill threw more shade in Mahomes' direction, saying he did not need the 2018 NFL MVP to excel, pointing to a game against the Minnesota Vikings in 2019, when Matt Moore started for an injured Mahomes and the three-time All-Pro wide receiver finished with six catches for 140 yards.

"I just want people to understand I went for 150 with Matt Moore as my quarterback," Hill said. "I love you, Matt Moore.

"Versus the Minnesota Vikings. If you don't remember that game, 150 and one touchdown with Matt Moore as my quarterback. And Tua T is 10 Matt Moores. I love Matt Moore, but Tua T is 10 Matt Moores."

It is not surprising for a player to throw so much support behind a new team-mate the way Hill is embracing Tagovailoa, but it is still quite startling to see Hill give so much love to Moore while spurning Mahomes.

This will be Mahomes' first season without the six-time Pro Bowler Hill, so time will tell how the Kansas City offense operates without the dynamic playmaker.

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