Jayson Tatum was the hero as the Boston Celtics bounced back against the star-studded Brooklyn Nets, winning 125-119 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference opening-round matchup.

Tatum posted a playoff career-high 50 points to thwart James Harden, Kevin Durant and the high-flying Nets in Boston on Friday.

The second-seeded Nets had seized control of the NBA playoff series following back-to-back wins in Brooklyn, but Tatum and the Celtics hit back on home court to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Tatum became the third Celtics player with 50-plus points in a regular playoff game, according to Stats Perform. The All-Star joined John Havlicek (54 in 1973) and Sam Jones (51 in 1967).

The 23-year-old Tatum also became the third youngest player in NBA history to post 50 or more points in a postseason contest. Ricky Barry (55 in 1967) and Michael Jordan (63 in 1986) are the only other players.

Big performances from former MVPs Harden (41 points and 10 assists) and Durant (39 points and nine rebounds) were not enough for the Nets.

Harden and Durant became the first pair of team-mates with 30-plus points in a playoff game since Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson in 2006.

 

Kawhi and George deliver in much-needed win

With their backs against the wall, the Los Angeles Clippers topped the Dallas Mavericks 118-108. Kawhi Leonard (36 points in 13-for-17 shooting) and Paul George (29 points) fuelled the fourth-ranked Clippers, who closed within 2-1 of the Mavericks in the Western Conference series. The Clippers spoiled the party in Dallas, where Luka Doncic produced a playoff career-high 44 points as the Mavs raced out to a 30-11 lead before the visitors rallied in front of 17,705 fans.

 

Randle fails to fire again

All-Star Julius Randle struggled as the New York Knicks lost 105-94 to the Atlanta Hawks, who claimed a 2-1 series lead in the east. Randle finished with a double-double of 14 points and 11 assists, but he was just two-for-15 shooting. Per Stats Perform, Randle became the first Knick to go 0 of eight or worse on two-pointers in a playoff game since Patrick Ewing (0 for 10) did so 27 years ago. Randle's 20.6 two-point percentage in the series is the lowest in a three-game span by any player with that many attempts in the last 30 postseasons.

While the Celtics won, Kemba Walker underwhelmed. He was just three-for-14 shooting as he finished with six points in 34 minutes.

 

Trae stars as Hawks soar

Trae Young was hot again for the Hawks after posting 21 points and 14 assists. The Hawks star joined Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kevin Johnson, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only players to record more than 30 assists in their first three career playoff games. Young recorded 10 assists in the first half – the first player to achieve the feat in a half of a playoff clash in their first postseason since Rajon Rondo in 2008. According to Stats Perform, Young is the third player since the merger with 80-plus points and 30-plus assists in his first three career playoff games, joining Johnson and Paul.

 

Friday's results

Atlanta Hawks 105-94 New York Knicks
Boston Celtics 125-119 Brooklyn Nets
Los Angeles Clippers 118-108 Dallas Mavericks

 

Bucks at Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks can seal a series sweep of the Miami Heat on Saturday. Eastern Conference rivals and top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers are also in action against the Washington Wizards, leading 2-0.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers insisted the team "have accomplished nothing" as they eye the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The top-seeded 76ers lead the Washington Wizards 2-0 in the opening round of their NBA playoff series following Wednesday's 120-95 rout.

Philadelphia – eyeing their first championship since 1983 – are in a commanding position as they head to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday.

The 76ers have not advanced to the NBA Finals since 2001, with Philadelphia failing to make it beyond the Conference semi-finals in 2003, 2012, 2018 and 2019, while they were swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics last season.

Rivers – a championship winner during his time in charge of the Celtics – is taking nothing for granted, with the 76ers desperate to end their title drought this season.

"We have done nothing," Rivers told reporters after Friday's practice.

"We have won two games, you don't get anything until you win four, so we have accomplished nothing as far as we're concerned."

The 76ers are featuring in the playoffs for the fourth successive season – the franchise's longest streak since making the postseason in five straight campaigns from 1999-2003.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (22 points apiece) combined to guide the 76ers past the Wizards in Philadelphia midweek.

It was Simmons' fourth career 20-plus point playoff game and his first since 2019, while it was Embiid's seventh consecutive 20-plus point playoff performance, dating back to 2019 – the streak tied with Allen Iverson for the 10th longest in Philadelphia postseason history.

Tobias Harris has also been a key contributor for the 76ers against the Wizards after backing up his playoff career-high 37 points in Game 1 with 19 points and nine assists on Wednesday.

"They have grown and that’s key for us," said Rivers. "I think, through the year, you just see so many different coverages on how they're going to defend Ben. Every night, they're going to defend Ben in a different way."

Rivers also attempted to allay fitness concerns over Harris and Seth Curry.

"Tobias, I think he'll be good," added Rivers. "He went through most of the stuff today. Seth didn't go through anything, but we think he'll be good, but we just don't know."

Jordan Spieth seized control of the Charles Schwab Challenge after claiming a one-shot lead at the half-way stage of the tournament, while Phil Mickelson failed to qualify for the weekend.

Former world number one and three-time major champion Spieth earned the outright lead thanks to a four-under-par 66 in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday.

Spieth entered the second round tied with 2017 Masters winners Sergio Garcia atop the standings by two strokes at Colonial Country Club.

Winner of the 2016 Charles Schwab Challenge, Spieth followed up his flawless 63 with another bogey-free round to move clear of the field after play was temporarily suspended due to inclement weather.

Spieth – who is the only bogey-free player through 36 holes at 11 under – holds his 13th second-round lead/co-lead on the PGA Tour – he is six-for-12 to date converting to victory.

Fellow American Jason Kokrak is second following his five-under-par 65, while Garcia (69), Sebastian Munoz (65) and Patton Kizzire (65) are two shots further back at eight under.

Defending champion Collin Morikawa is six shots off the pace after posting a second-round 66.

Justin Thomas (66) registered his 51st bogey-free round of his career. The 14-time PGA Tour champion, who is two under, recorded his 102nd round of 66 or better since 2012 – marking the fourth best on Tour.

Meanwhile, US PGA Championship winner Mickelson missed the cut, despite a heroic 69.

Mickelson, who made history at last week's PGA Championship after the 50-year-old became the oldest major winner in golf history, ended the event two over – just a shot outside the cut line.

David Alaba is eagerly awaiting his Real Madrid debut after swapping Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich for Los Blancos.

Madrid – looking for a new head coach following Zinedine Zidane's departure – confirmed the arrival of Alaba on a free transfer upon the expiry of his Bayern contract, the Austria star signing a five-year deal at the LaLiga giants.

Following Friday's confirmation, Alaba took to social media to talk up his move from Munich to the Spanish capital after winning 27 trophies with Bayern.

"I leave one special club for another," the 28-year-old Austria international Alaba wrote via Twitter.

"After so many years in Munich, I'll take on this new challenge and do my best to continue the history of this special club.

"I can't wait to play my first game in this legendary white shirt, in front of all of you, the Real Madrid fans.

"I'm convinced that this experience will be full of success."

Alaba made his debut in a DFB-Pokal meeting with Greuther Furth in February 2010, becoming the club's youngest player in history at the time and setting up a goal for Franck Ribery within a minute of coming on.

The Austrian was 17 years, seven months and 18 days old when he made his debut, but Jamal Musiala is now Bayern's youngest debutant.

Alaba has gone on to make 448 appearances for the Bavarian giants, scoring 35 goals and supplying 47 assists in all competitions. 

He has won 27 trophies with Bayern, lifting the Bundesliga title 10 times and winning the Champions League twice – both of those European successes forming part of trebles.  

Milwaukee Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo will miss the remainder of the NBA playoffs due to an ankle injury, the franchise announced on Friday.

In a blow for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the championship-chasing Bucks, DiVincenzo suffered a torn ligament in his left ankle.

DiVincenzo sustained the injury in the second quarter of Thursday's 113-84 rout of the Miami Heat as the Bucks claimed a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

"It's a tough blow, but you have to kind of process and understand it's an unfortunate thing, but we have to prepare and get ready," said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. "Other guys will have opportunities."

In three playoff games (all starts), DiVincenzo averaged 2.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.0 steal in 23.3 minutes per game.

In 66 regular-season games (all starts), the 24-year-old averaged 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 27.5 minutes per game – all career-high totals.

"On an individual, personal level for Donte, it's really, really tough," added Budenholzer.

"But his mentality, his approach, any time Donte is thrown some adversity or thrown something that's difficult for himself or for everybody, the way he handles it just continues to be impressive."

Italy started their preparations for Euro 2020 with an emphatic 7-0 friendly win over San Marino at the Sardegna Arena on Friday. 

Despite a slow start, Roberto Mancini's side went in at the interval two goals up courtesy of strikes from Federico Bernardeschi – the Juventus man's sixth international goal – and Gian Marco Ferrari.  

Matteo Politano and Matteo Pessina added braces after the break, while Andrea Belotti was also on target as Italy brushed aside their neighbours with the minimum of fuss.

The result marked the Azzurri's seventh consecutive win without conceding a goal. 

Italy struggled in the early stages against their less illustrious opponents, with only Gianluca Mancini and Bernardeschi registering efforts on target inside the opening half hour. 

They went ahead after 31 minutes, however, when Bernardeschi's low strike from 20 yards proved too powerful for San Marino goalkeeper Elia Benedettini. 

Sassuolo defender Ferrari, who scored on his only other appearance for Italy against San Marino in 2017, doubled their advantage three minutes later, volleying home after Benedettini had failed to clear a corner. 

Half-time substitute Politano wasted little time making his mark on the game, sliding in his third international goal in the 49th minute after a mix-up in the San Marino defence. 

Belotti added a fourth after 67 minutes, the Torino striker latching onto Bernardeschi's pass and firing past Benedettini from eight yards. 

Pessina stroked home a fifth in the 75th minute after Gaetano Castrovilli had struck the post from outside the penalty area, while Politano added his second two minutes later with a fine volley from 12 yards.

Atalanta midfielder Pessina then rounded off the scoring four minutes from full-time with a poked finish from a tight angle.

Eddie Howe will not be taking over at Celtic despite "positive and detailed" talks with the Scottish club.

Howe had been one of the frontrunners to replace Neil Lennon, who left Celtic in February with the Bhoys trailing Rangers in the Scottish Premiership.

Lennon's departure did nothing to prevent Rangers' march to the title, ending Celtic's hopes of winning 10 championships on the bounce.

Howe left Bournemouth following their relegation from the Premier League in 2020, and Celtic confirmed they held talks with the 43-year-old.

However, it appears the move is dead in the water, with Celtic stating that they are assessing other candidates due to reasons beyond the control of the club and Howe.

"Following very positive and detailed discussions with Eddie Howe, with the belief that he would be an excellent candidate for the position of Celtic manager, we allowed time for the process, given he'd previously made it clear he was not looking to return to management until this summer at the earliest," a club statement read.

"We can now confirm that Eddie will not be joining the club, for reasons outwith both his and Celtic's control.

"We wish Eddie success for the future.

"As part of the ongoing process we have engaged with a number of candidates. We fully appreciate our fans will be seeking clarity on this matter and we aim, very shortly, to announce the appointment of a manager with the quality and desire to take Celtic forward and bring further success to our supporters."

Reports have claimed Howe and Celtic failed to reach an agreement over his proposed backroom staff at Parkhead.

Juventus have confirmed Massimiliano Allegri has returned as their new head coach, taking over from Andrea Pirlo.

Rookie coach Pirlo could only manage a fourth-placed finish in Serie A in 2020-21, and a Coppa Italia triumph was not enough for the club legend to keep his job.

It is Allegri – who guided Juve to five straight Serie A titles and two Champions League finals between 2014 and 2019 – who Juve have turned to.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform analyses the key numbers and statistics from Allegri's first, trophy-laden spell in charge of the Old Lady.

RECORD SETTER

Juve's two highest-scoring seasons dating back as far as 1930 have both come under the stewardship of Allegri.

In fact, Allgeri is responsible three of the seven Juventus seasons during which they have netted 100 goals or more – alongside his predecessor Pirlo, Antonio Conte and Jesse Carver.

Allegri guided Juventus to 26 home wins in 2016-17 – the highest total produced by the club in a single campaign dating back to at least 1930 – while his 2017-18 season (which was also the campaign in which Juve netted 112 goals) saw the Bianconeri record 18 away wins, the most in any season since 1930.

 

TOP OF THE CHARTS

Only one coach in Juve's history, Giovanni Trapattoni, has overseen more league games than Allegri's 190.

Juve amassed 142 victories, giving Allegri a win percentage of 74.74, clear of second-placed Conte (72.81), who managed 83 triumphs from 114 matches.

During his five seasons with Juve, Allegri suffered just 20 league defeats, with his team scoring 380 goals and conceding 125 in return, averaging 2.39 points per game.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: ALLEGRI V CONTE

Allegri succeeded Conte at Juve in 2014, with the latter – who has just left Inter having guided the Nerazzurri to their first Serie A title in 11 years – taking over as Italy coach.

Conte spent three seasons with Juve, starting their title streak that Allegri and subsequently Maurizio Sarri would go on to continue.

In total, Allegri was in charge of Juve for 271 games in all competitions, overseeing 191 wins (a 70.48 success rate), 43 draws and 37 defeats.

Conte had 151 matches at the helm, recording 102 victories – 67.55 per cent – and 34 draws. However, his Juve team lost on just 15 occasions, at an average of five per season.

Novak Djokovic survived a second-set fightback from Andrej Martin to seal his place in the final of the Belgrade Open on Friday.

The world number one looked well placed to cruise to victory after taking just 38 minutes to win the first set 6-1, but qualifier Martin hit back in the second to force a decider.

Djokovic swiftly regained composure, though, with a bagel settling the contest 6-1 4-6 6-0 in his favour, and he will now have the backing of his home crowd as he looks to clinch his third Belgrade Open title and warm up for the French Open in style.

"I'm super excited to play in front of a Serbian crowd. This is my home town," said Djokovic, who previously won at the event in 2009 and 2011.

"I'm always excited, but also nervous, coming out on the court and playing in front of my home crowd. It's a very unique feeling. You feel a lot of pressure and expectations. But I'm just happy to fight for a trophy.

"I thought I started and finished the match really well, so I'll try to take those positive feelings into tomorrow's final. I also had some letdowns in concentration towards the end of the second set, and I'll try to correct those mistakes for tomorrow."

Standing in the way of a second title of the season for 34-year-old Djokovic is another qualifier, Slovakian Alex Molcan, who came from behind to beat Federico Delbonis 4-6 6-4 6-4.

At the Emilia-Romagna Open, Sebastian Korda, who has yet to drop a set this week, triumphed in an all-American semi-final contest, beating Tommy Paul 6-3 6-3 to reach his second Tour-level final.

Korda's win sets up a final against Italian Marco Cecchinato, who is aiming for his fourth career singles title after overcoming Jaume Munar 7-6 (7-2) 1-6 6-1.

"With my situation, look, it's never been about the draft pick, picking Jordan."

Aaron Rodgers this week broke his silence amid his stand-off with the Green Bay Packers, which cast a shadow over the 2021 NFL Draft as his desire for a trade was revealed last month and has left a perennial NFC contender to start their preparations for the upcoming season without the league MVP, insisting his push to leave has nothing to do with them selecting his heir apparent, Jordan Love, in the first round in 2020.

"It's just kind of about a philosophy and maybe forgetting that it is about the people that make the thing go," said Rodgers on ESPN's SportsCenter. 

"It's about character, it's about culture, it's about doing things the right way."

But whatever Rodgers' reasons for his self-imposed exile, the reality for the Packers is that the longer this episode drags on, the more it becomes about Love and the potential drop-off from a future Hall of Fame quarterback to one who did not even suit up for a game as a rookie.

Just how precipitous could the decline in play from Rodgers to Love be if the three-time MVP does not return to play the 2021 campaign? Stats Perform analysed the data to look at the scale of the challenge the Packers may face if they have to turn the keys to the offense over to Love in the coming season.

Rodgers' finest hour?

Most quarterbacks in the NFL would struggle to live up to the standard Rodgers produced in 2020, as his skill set and Matt LaFleur's offense – with its roots in the ultra quarterback-friendly Kyle Shanahan attack – coalesced to devastating effect.

Rodgers completed 70.7 per cent of his passes, the highest mark of his career in seasons in which he attempted at least 200 throws, for 4,299 yards, 48 touchdowns and five interceptions.

That equated to a TD-INT ratio of 9.60, the second-best of his career behind a 2018 season where he threw only 25 touchdowns, as Rodgers outperformed each of his prior MVP seasons in 2011 (7.50) and 2014 (7.60) in that regard.

There is a case to be made, therefore, that the 2020 campaign was Rodgers' finest to date, and it is one furthered by the advanced metrics.

Rodgers' well-thrown percentage, which measures how often a quarterback delivers an accurate, well-thrown ball, was 82.4, third in the NFL behind Philip Rivers and Ryan Tannehill.

In other words, Rodgers' completion percentage was no accident. He produced on-target throws at an extremely high rate and did an excellent job of avoiding turnover-worthy passes.

Indeed, Rodgers was also third in the NFL in pickable pass percentage, which analyses how often a throw is interceptable by the defense. Only Alex Smith (2.12%) and Tom Brady (2.20) threw a lower percentage of interceptable passes than Rodgers (2.23).

Rodgers has not thrown double-digit interceptions since the 2010 season, when he led Green Bay to Super Bowl glory, and he suffered only 19 sacks for negative yardage in 2020. At this stage in his decorated career, Rodgers possesses a masterful knowledge of how to maximise his offense's potential to produce positive plays and limit defenses' opportunities for game-changing takeaways.

Without any NFL experience, Love's ability to do the same is questionable at best after a turnover-laden end to his collegiate career.

A bemusing bet on Love

The Packers' decision to trade up in the first round in 2020 to select Love as Rodgers' eventual successor was a contentious one not just because they eschewed the chance to boost the supporting cast of wide receivers in a historic draft at the position. Planning for the future at the game's most important spot is advisable but making that move for a quarterback coming off the 2019 season Love endured was always likely to raise eyebrows.

After an impressive 2018 in which he threw 32 touchdowns to just six interceptions for Utah State, Love experienced a hugely underwhelming 2019.

Love's 17 interceptions were the most in the FBS in a year that saw his touchdown total dip to 20, while his completion percentage of 61.9 was only good enough for 54th in the FBS.

And his struggles in connecting with his receivers and issues with turning the ball over were a consequence of Love's consistent failure to produce accurate throws.

Love's 2019 well-thrown percentage of 66.74 was well below the average of 73.20 for Power 5 and Group of 5 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.

Thirty-eight of his passes were considered interceptable, giving him a pickable pass percentage of 8.21 that was the third-worst among signal-callers to meet that 100-throw threshold. 

When under pressure his well-thrown percentage declined further to 54.89 per cent and his pickable pass rate increased to 12 per cent.

A quarterback struggling when he feels the pressure is no surprise, but the shortcomings Love displayed when operating from a clean pocket and when under duress while playing against largely non-Power 5 opposition makes the prospect of him facing NFL defenses after a season on the bench a very alarming one.

Should he start in 2021, Love will have the benefit of something he lacked during his final year at Utah State, a supporting cast capable of elevating his game.

Stellar safety nets

While much has been made of the lack of investment in Rodgers' receiving weapons, whoever plays under center in 2021 will be playing with arguably the premier wideout in the NFL in Davante Adams.

He racked up 1,374 yards, the second-highest mark of his career, while leading the league in yards per game (98.1) and receiving touchdowns (18). Adams was also top of the charts in burn yards per route (3.9) among receivers to play at least 50 snaps in 2020.

The apparent telepathy Rodgers and Adams enjoy powered the Packers' run to the NFC Championship Game last season, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling also displayed intriguing progress.

With 45 burns – which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted regardless of whether the pass is catchable or not – on 61 targets, Valdes-Scantling was eighth in burn percentage (73.8), second in burn yards per target (18.96) and fourth in big-play percentage (46.1) while recording the third-highest average depth of target (18.1) of all receivers with 50 snaps to their name.

Running back Aaron Jones was re-signed this offseason and could offer an extremely valuable safety net for a young quarterback having flourished in the zone-running scheme employed by LaFleur, posting a career-high rushing yards total of 1,104 and leading all running backs in yards before contact per attempt with 3.65.

Though Adams and Jones are unquestionably elite weapons, a lack of depth at receiver has long since been an issue. The third-round selection of Amari Rodgers this year was a belated attempt to address it but was obviously a pick made with giving Rodgers a dependable slot option in mind.

Rodgers' incredible consistency in delivering accurate balls to all levels of the field has helped Adams to grow into one of the NFL's most feared players at the receiver position and unquestionably played a role in Valdes-Scantling's recent development.

With Love bereft of experience and the ball-placement proficiency that has contributed significantly to Rodgers becoming an all-time great, it is highly debatable whether he could build the same kind of rapport with Adams and Valdes-Scantling or help Amari Rodgers quickly blossom in the slot.

The Packers are a team for whom the Super Bowl has frustratingly proven a step too far in the past two years. Rather than enabling them to take that leap in 2021, a switch from Rodgers to Love is more likely to put them in reverse in the short term. For Green Bay to realise the potential of a loaded roster, it is imperative Rodgers is the first to blink in this most public of staring contests.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce clocked a season-best 10.84 to record her first win over 100m at the Diamond League meeting in Doha today.

Sorana Cirstea and Barbora Krejcikova will do battle in the Internationaux de Strasbourg final after overcoming tough tests in their respective semi-finals.

Handed a quarter-final walkover due to the withdrawal of top seed Bianca Andreescu due to injury earlier in the week, Cirstea fell behind to Poland's Magda Linette on Friday, but hit back to win 3-6 6-4 6-2.

Cirstea, world number 61, is in the hunt for her second title of the season after her success in Istanbul last month – a trophy that ended a barren run of over 12 years for the Romanian.

The 31-year-old will face stern competition from fifth seed Krejcikova, however.

Krejcikova is in the hunt for her maiden Tour-level triumph, after falling short at the final hurdle in Dubai in March.

She too needed three sets to claim a place in the final, with world number 216 Jule Niemeier pushing Krejcikova all the way.

However, the Czech – ranked at 38th in the world by the WTA – rallied after losing the first set 7-5.

Having clinically taken the three break points on offer to her in set two, Krejcikova broke for a final time to make it 4-3 in the decider – a lead she would not relinquish as she prevailed 5-7 6-3 6-4.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel does not believe Saturday's Champions League final against Manchester City will hinge upon the tactical battle between himself and Pep Guardiola.

Much has been made of Tuchel and Guardiola's friendship and mutual admiration in the build-up to the showpiece encounter at Estadio do Dragao.

The former Paris Saint-Germain boss is back in the final less than a year after the Ligue 1 giants were beaten by Bayern Munich and he feels multiple factors will be at play – including Chelsea's wins over City in the FA Cup and Premier League this season.

"It’s much more than that. I would never suggest that it's me against him," he told a pre-match news conference in Porto. "We don't have a match of tennis tomorrow.

"We arrive with our teams. Pep will prepare his team and I will prepare my team in the best way possible.

"We have two different experiences against them in different competitions. Two different matches, two different line-ups. Tomorrow I think they will be a very different line-up from Man City."

Guardiola heavily rotated his City line-up for the two most recent encounters against Chelsea, coming as they did on the back of Champions League quarter-final and semi-final triumphs over Borussia Dortmund and PSG.

Nevertheless, Tuchel appeared to differ from his counterpart's assessment that those results had "zero" bearing over what will unfold this weekend.

"We have the experience of how much we have to suffer and how brave and courageous we need to play in certain moment of the game," he said.

"It's always tough to play against City, Bayern or Barcelona when Pep is at the sideline. He creates these teams with huge belief and a continuously winning mentality.

"They are maybe, at the moment, the strongest team in the world. They have built a huge gap between them and us in the league.

"We closed the gap for 90 minutes at Wembley, we closed it for 90 minutes at City and this is what we want to do tomorrow.

"We are very well aware that Man City is the benchmark with this team and this manager over the last years, but in football you are always able to close the gap.

"We closed the gap twice. We were courageous, we were brave and we were suffering together. We had a strong belief and strong quality."

Suffering is something Tuchel was happy to report had declined from view for N'Golo Kante and Edouard Mendy, with the influential midfielder and goalkeeper both passed fit.

Indeed, removing the mental strain has been a focus for the 47-year-old as his team aim to bounce back from defeat to Leicester City in the FA Cup final and losses in two of their final three Premier League games that saw them finish 19 points behind champions City.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't want to pretend this is a normal week," he said. "Everybody feels different about it, but we arrive and the countdown is on for a big, big match.

"It's a very exciting, demanding week mentally and physically. We have to get it right, the coaches have to get it right.

"Today was a very relaxed day, we had the possibility to enjoy some quality time in the hotel in beautiful weather to relax and breathe a bit, to connect with our core, with our love of the game and the passion we all shared as little kids.

"The tension is building very naturally. We don't want to arrive in a final over-excited or arrive in a final under-excited."

Tuchel added: "To be nervous, you can use it to be on your best level. Pressure is sometimes a huge boost and sometimes it is a big backpack to carry. Just admit it and let's be who we are. We are a strong group."

Rafael Nadal is not worried about being in the same half of the draw as fellow legends Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at the French Open.

World number one Djokovic and Federer, eighth in the rankings, could meet at the quarter-final stage at Roland Garros, with a potential showdown with Nadal to come in the last four.

Defending champion Nadal says he is not looking beyond a first-round encounter with Alexei Popyrin in Paris, where he could move ahead of Federer by claiming a record 21st grand slam title.

The Spaniard said on Friday: "I see it as natural. One player is almost 40 [Federer], another is almost 35 [Nadal] and the other is 34 [Djokovic]. It seems logical that younger players climb in the rankings.

"Whenever that happens you have these consequences [with the seedings]. I see it as completely normal. I'm not worried about it. I have a lot of work in front of me to play a potential match versus Djokovic [in the semi-final].

"They would need to play each other and I have my own path. My path right now is Popyrin [in the first round] and that's where my mind is. My draw is hard enough to be thinking about anything else. I must continue my preparation, focus on my routines and keep advancing in the way we want."

Nadal on Thursday saw a statue of himself unveiled at Roland Garros, where has won 13 French Open titles and has a staggering record of 100 victories and two defeats.

He has won the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome and the Barcelona Open on clay this season but is braced for a tough start against 21-year-old Australian Popyrin.

Nadal said: "He's young, he has the power. He has big shots. As always, I need to be ready for it. I need to keep practising [during] the next couple of days and try to be in the best shape possible.

"I know every round is tough, I always respect every opponent. I respected everyone since the beginning of my career. And Popyrin is a dangerous one, so I need to play well and I'm looking forward to trying to make that happen.

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