Juventus were 2-0 up and coasting at Milan on Tuesday before collapsing in utterly abject fashion.

Three goals in five minutes turned the game on its head before Ante Rebic completed a 4-2 triumph for the Rossoneri.

A seven-point lead with seven games remaining means Maurizio Sarri's men remain on course for the Scudetto.

But up next are fourth-placed Atalanta, themselves nine points from the summit. After their San Siro ordeal, a showdown with one of the most exciting and dangerous teams in European football might be the last thing Juve need.


PERFECT SINCE LOCKDOWN

Saturday's match at the Allianz Stadium brings together two attacking ideologues. Sarri's high-pressing, high-possession approach became so ingrained during his celebrated spell at Napoli that it was given its own nickname.

But Sarrismo has a more than worthy adversary in Gian Piero Gasperini's thrilling, fearless setup.

Atalanta's expansive 3-4-1-2 system, in which central midfielders, wing-backs and forwards freely exchange positions to repeatedly overload opponents in wide areas, has produced goals by the truckload this season.

They head to Turin in prime form, buoyed by a run of nine Serie A wins in succession – the club's longest ever such tally in the top flight.

Along with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid – both potential Champions League final opponents in these heady days for Atalanta – they are one of three teams in Europe's top five leagues to have won all their games since lockdown.

Overall, La Dea have 20 victories this term, which is one shy of the single season record Gasperini set during his first campaign at the helm in 2016-17.


GOALS, GOALS, GOALS

While Gasperini's masterpiece is one of collective ingenuity, there are also some very impressive individual numbers.

If Duvan Zapata manages one more league goal, Atalanta will be the first side to have three players with 15 or more to their name in a Serie A season since Juventus in 1951-52, when Ermes Muccinelli, Giampiero Boniperti and John Hansen accomplished the feat

Luis Muriel and Josip Ilicic have 17 and 15 respectively, with Muriel's feat all the more impressive when considering he typically begins matches on the bench.

Indeed, the Colombia international is only the second player to score double figures in a single season via substitute appearances across the top five leagues, after Paco Alcacer did likewise at Borussia Dortmund in 2018-19.

The dazzling firecracker at the creative centre of this explosive attack is Alejandro 'Papu' Gomez, who is set to make his 300th Serie A appearance against Juventus.

The 32-year-old Argentinian playmaker enjoys free rein as Gasperini's number 10 and has racked up 15 assists this term – the highest single-season figure since Opta started collecting such data in 2004-05.

Gomez has provided at least 10 Serie A assists in each of his four seasons under Gasperini and the former Catania man has 128 goal involvements in Italy's top flight overall (61 goals and 67 assists).


GATECRASHING EUROPE'S ELITE

A rampaging last-16 win over Valencia booked Atalanta's place in the Champions League quarter-finals, where they will take on Paris Saint-Germain when Europe's elite club competition lands in Lisbon for its concluding mini-tournament next month.

Their performances truly are among the very best on the continent

Only Bayern (100) and Manchester City (86) have scored more league goals than Atalanta's 85 in 2019-20.

That amounts to an average of 2.74 per game, again the third best in Europe. Dominant Bundesliga winners Bayern edged up to 2.94 per game, while PSG averaged 2.78 across the truncated Ligue 1 season.

Along with City and Barcelona, Atalanta have scored five or more goals in five separate matches. That can only be bettered in the Bundesliga, where Bayern and Dortmund each did it six times.

Things are also looking pleasingly tight at the back. In 2020, La Dea have five Serie A clean sheets, edged in the calendar year so far by Juventus and Milan with six apiece.

Juve certainly should not bank on adding to that number when they host Gasperini's great entertainers. If Atalanta manage to storm Turin, it will be 10 wins in a row and the gap will be six points with six games to play.

They can't... can they?

Tennis lovers worldwide should have been licking their lips in anticipation of the Wimbledon finals this weekend.

There were two contrasting singles championship matches last year, Simona Halep dismantling Serena Williams before Novak Djokovic got the better of Roger Federer in an epic marathon five-set thriller.

Centre Court crowds and millions watching all over the planet have been treated to classic finals over the years, but there have also been showdowns that many would have expected to see that never transpired.

While there was no 2020 grass-court grand slam this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, we look at a selection of finals that never occurred at the All England Club for one reason or another.

 

Steffi Graf v Martina Hingis

Graf and Hingis met twice at SW19 but the latest round in which they did battle was for a place in the quarter-finals.

German legend Graf was unable to go for a third consecutive Wimbledon title in 1997 due to injury and it was Swiss sensation Hingis who lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish for the first and only time, defeating Jana Novotna.

Novotna gained revenge by dumping Hingis out at the semi-final stage 12 months later after Graf - 12 years older than Hingis - was beaten by Natasha Zvereva in the third round.

Hingis never went beyond the quarter-finals after that, while in 1999 Graf fell to Lindsay Davenport in her last appearance at a tournament she won seven times.

 

John McEnroe v Boris Becker

McEnroe and Becker have shared a commentary box at Wimbledon, but they were never on the opposite side of the net in a final.

A packed crowd would have most certainly been on the edge of their seats to watch two of the most colourful characters in the sport throw everything at each other in pursuit of major glory, but it was not to be.

The closest it came to materialising was in 1989, when American legend McEnroe was denied a place in the final by Stefan Edberg.

Becker beat Edberg in the final to take the title for a third and last time. They may well have met in a final if McEnroe had not missed the 1986 tournament due to taking a break from the sport or suffered a back injury the following year.

 

Justine Henin v Kim Clijsters

Belgium would have surely come to a standstill if Henin and Clijsters had graced Centre Court in a final.

Henin won seven grand slam titles before retiring in 2008 aged only 25 and although she made a comeback in 2010, the former world number one called it a day again the following year as she struggled with an elbow injury.

She quit as a two-time Wimbledon runner-up, while Clijsters - who announced she was making a surprise comeback last year - has never reached the final at SW19.

Semi-final appearances in 2003 and 2006 are as far as Clijsters has been at Wimbledon, and it is a great shame the four-time major singles winner and her compatriot never contested a battle of Belgium for one of the biggest prizes in sport at the peak of their powers.

 

Andy Murray v Rafael Nadal

There have been 24 matches contested by Murray and Nadal, with three of those staged at Wimbledon.

Nadal broke the hearts of Murray fans by beating him on each occasion at his home grand slam, twice in the semi-finals and once in the last eight 12 years ago.

You have to go back to 2011 for Spanish legend Nadal's last appearance in a Wimbledon final, while Murray was crowned champion four years ago but has not played in the tournament since 2017 due to career-threatening hip injury.

While a fit-again Murray is hoping to work his way back to the top and Nadal remains a huge force, time is not on their side and it appears unlikely they will be opponents in a Wimbledon final.

Jorge Masvidal being confirmed as welterweight champion Kamaru Usman's opponent at UFC 251 saw the anticipation surrounding the first event at 'Fight Island' step up a notch this week.

After initial talks with Masvidal broke down amid a public pay dispute with UFC, Gilbert Burns was handed the opportunity to take on Usman in the Octagon following his impressive victory over former champion Tyron Woodley in May.

However, the Brazilian was forced to withdraw from the fight on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi after testing positive for coronavirus.

Step forward Masvidal, who agreed to take on Usman with just six days' notice and give fans the fight they really wanted to see.


WHY THE HYPE?

Usman has steamrollered his way through UFC's welterweight division but Masvidal is a notable name not on the resume of the 'Nigerian Nightmare'.

After trading barbs on social media and almost coming to blows at Super Bowl LIV's Radio Row earlier this year, the pair are keen to settle the score in the cage.

Usman's only professional MMA defeat came way back in 2013 and he has yet to be beaten in UFC, with the biggest names in the 170lbs division unable to stop him.

After ending Tyron Woodley's impressive reign, Usman silenced the big-mouthed Colby Covington. It means there are few true tests in the division.

Masvidal has never been one to shy from a challenge and after a stellar 2019, 'Gamebred' is more than worthy of his shot at the welterweight title.


GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS

There's a reason they call him the 'Nigerian Nightmare'. Usman's record is phenomenal. Huge wins over Demian Maia and Rafael dos Anjos led to a title fight with the great Woodley, which he won via decision a little over a year ago.

His first defence ended in a fifth-round stoppage of Covington in a gruelling encounter last December.

While Masvidal has been around the game for a long time, it was three hugely impressive and significant victories in 2019 that saw the veteran soar to prominence.

It started with a second-round knockout of Darren Till, was followed up by a shock five-second triumph over Ben Askren and culminated when he defeated Nate Diaz in a brutal bout to win the UFC's BMF belt.


WHAT'S THEIR MMA RECORD (W-L-D)?

Usman: 16-1-0

Masvidal: 35-13-0

 

TALE OF THE TAPE

Usman:

Age: 33

Height: 6'0" (182cm)

Weight: 170lbs (77kg)

Reach: 76"

Leg Reach: 41"

 

Masvidal:

Age: 35

Height: 5'11" (180cm)

Weight: 170lbs (77kg)

Reach: 74"

Leg Reach: 39.5"


WHAT THEY'VE SAID ABOUT THE FIGHT

Usman told ESPN: "All I'm going to say is, I'm going to bless him with these hands in any way possible. Whether he's on his back, I'll bless him with these fists. Whether he's standing up, I'll bless him with these fists. It's up to him how he's able to handle that. Whether he lets me bless him in the first round where there's no more suffering, or he can take it like Covington and I'll bless him for 24 minutes until I get him out of there."

Masvidal told ESPN: "I'm not in Ben Askren shape because he's a hell of a wrestler, or even to fight a guy like Darren Till. But am I in shape for this bum I'm about to decapitate and baptise? Hell yeah. Cold-blooded as can be. His body's [gasping] for air as I got my hand raised over him. I'm going to baptise him for the world to see. It's going to be violent. It's going to start violent. It's going to end violent."

FIGHT STATS IN UFC

Usman:

- Usman has landed with 843 of his 1,594 attempted significant strikes. A success rate of 53 per cent.

- Of the 83 takedowns Usman has attempted, he has completed 42 (51 per cent success rate).

- In defense, Usman has avoided 60 per cent of significant strikes against him and remarkably 100 per cent of takedown attempts.

- From his significant strikes, 51 per cent have come from a standing position.

Masvidal:

- Masvidal has a significant strike accuracy of 49 per cent. 967 of his 1,957 attempted strikes have landed.

- The Miami native has completed 15 of 31 takedown attempts.

- In terms of defensive abilities, Masvidal has protected himself against 67 per cent of significant strikes and 78 per cent of takedown attempts.

- As for striking targets, 526 (62 per cent) have landed on the head, with 204 (24 per cent) and 122 (14 per cent) to the body and legs.

Juventus pulled off a transfer coup when they signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid on July 10, 2018.

The Portugal great left Madrid as the club's all-time record goalscorer and seeking a new challenge in the autumn years of his career.

Ronaldo remains a master goalscorer and has quickly amassed an impressive record, with Juve in the box seat to claim another Scudetto in 2019-20.

Here, with some help from Opta, we look at the form that means the 35-year-old remains one of the very best players on the planet.

58 – Ronaldo's overall goals tally for Juve has come in 82 appearances.

0.71 – This amounts to a goals per game ratio below the 1.03 he averaged at Madrid, where he netted a scarcely credible 450 in 438 appearances

47 – His Serie A goals haul means he is already the top-scoring Portuguese player in the history of the competition. Since the start of 2018-19, it places Ronaldo fourth in Europe's top leagues, behind Lionel Messi (58), Robert Lewandowski (56) and Kylian Mbappe (51).

26 – This season, Ronaldo's is the first Juventus player to score 26 goals in a single Serie A campaign since Omar Sivori scored 28 in 1959-60.

25 – For the 10th time in his career, Ronaldo has passed 25 goals in a league season. No other player in Europe's top five leagues has bettered this, with Messi having also accomplished the feat on 10 occasions.

30 – For the 11th time in his career, the former Manchester United favourite has registered 30 goals in all competitions this term.

336 – No player in Europe's top divisions has had more shots than Ronaldo over the past two seasons. Only Messi (153) has more than his 133 on target.

5.5 – Ronaldo's shots-per-game average for the Old Lady, down on 6.3 at Madrid.

15 - His assist figure at Juve, from 122 chances created. That's an average of 1.5 per game.

It was damning enough for MLB to learn that accomplished players such as David Price, Nick Markakis and Ian Desmond have decided to sit out the pandemic-delayed 2020 season. Even more concerning is that three-time MVP Mike Trout is considering it.

While Trout said he still expects to play this season, he remains concerned about playing during a global pandemic as he and his wife, Jessica, expect their first child in August.

"Honestly, I still don't feel that comfortable," Trout said. "If I test positive, I talked to doctors and they said I couldn't see the baby for 14 days or Jess can't see the baby for 14 days if she's positive, we're going to be upset.

"I think the biggest issue is keeping Jess safe, the baby safe, obviously me. Coming to the field every day getting tested is huge. I have to be really cautious."

Trout said he has spoken to Angels manager Joe Maddon and general manager Billy Eppler as he tries to figure out what is best for himself and his family. The superstar center fielder is keeping his options open, including sitting out until the baby arrives.

"There's so much buried information I've encouraged everyone to think for themselves," Maddon said. "I'm appealing to our guys to be as informed as they can and then arrive at their own truth. Tell me what they feel."

There is simply no getting around the fact that the 2020 season will be unlike another. Going from 162 games to 60 is clearly the biggest difference and how that will affect players' performances and what role injuries will play in a condensed season remains to be seen. 

For a team like the Angels where Trout is their whole universe, playing without him for an entire season would be catastrophic. He is also a terrific ambassador for baseball as the sport's brightest star and his potential absence would leave a gaping void.

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey is another marquee player that has said he is considering sitting out the season due to health and safety concerns.

"I think there's still some reservation on my end as well," Posey said. "I want to see how things progress here over the next couple weeks. It would be a little bit maybe silly or naive not to gauge what's going on around you, and not only around here but paying attention to what's happening in different parts of the country."

While not nearly the offensive force that Trout is, Posey is the most recognisable name on a Giants team that has endured three consecutive losing seasons. A baseball season without him would be another detriment for 2020.

A handful of players have already tested positive for COVID-19, with Boston Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu and Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman among the biggest names.

Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said he intended to have Rodriguez start on opening day against the Orioles on July 24, but that is now in jeopardy. Boston are already without ace Chris Sale for the season after he underwent Tommy John surgery, so missing Rodriguez for any length of time would be a huge problem.

Players that test positive must first quarantine for two weeks and then must be free of symptoms and test negative twice before rejoining their clubs.

Some tests have revealed "pending" or inconclusive results, forcing teams to keep those players out of full-team workouts – even if a player has not had a positive test.

"We have to be overly cautious," Roenicke said.

The Giants had to cancel practice on Tuesday after their testing results from Saturday were held up. All the tests – for players and staff – eventually came back negative and the team resumed workouts on Wednesday.

Houston Astros star Alex Bregman was unable to work out with the team on Wednesday because his test results were delayed.

"He's probably frustrated because I know how hard Alex works and how dedicated he is to getting off to a good start," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "There's nothing we can do about it."

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was not pleased that his team had to cancel workouts on Monday due to testing delays.

"Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab," Rizzo said. "Otherwise, summer camp and the 2020 season are at risk."

MLB responded by saying there were unforeseen delays on the test results due to the July 4 holiday weekend.

"We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence," MLB said in a statement.

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant also took issue with MLB's testing protocols.

"What we agreed to was testing every other day, and we've had guys who showed up on Sunday and hadn't got tested until seven days later," he said. "And you don't get the results until two days later. That's nine days without knowing.

"If we want this to succeed, we have to figure this out. I wanted to play this year because I thought it would be safe. Honestly, I don't really feel that."

Nobody would suggest missing a workout or two now would affect a team's performance in August or September but testing delays during the season could lead to unfair advantages.

Perhaps the team with the biggest advantage will be the one that can avoid the virus by remaining disciplined and keeping their complete roster intact. Players will be expected to abide by a whole host of rules this season and that could prove challenging playing virtually every day for two months.

"This is going to be tough for everybody," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to be mentally strong."

Amid all the talk of testing and players concerned for their health and safety, MLB released the 60-game schedule for the abbreviated season without fans on Monday.

Opening day on July 23 features Gerrit Cole and the Yankees visiting the defending champion Nationals in the first game before Mookie Betts makes his Los Angeles Dodgers debut against the rival Giants in the nightcap.

The touching pre-match tribute to Ennio Morricone, the great Italian film composer who died, aged 91, on Monday, fitted nicely for what was about to unfold at San Siro.

Possibly for the last time in their decorated careers, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – two of the most destructive gunslingers in modern European football – were ready to do battle as Milan and Juventus lined up.

More so than perhaps any other players of their generation, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic's on-field deeds have frequently carried cinematic qualities. From the rippling physiques and inimitable preening, to their seamless combination of brute force and artistry, both men scream Hollywood.

Characters who polarise the audience were always the best pegs for Morricone's irresistibly lush arrangements and Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic are good, bad and ugly to many all at the same time. If Lionel Messi's lack of overt edge leaves you cold, these two have always been your guys. Your antiheroes.

While Ronaldo and Messi existed unrelentingly in one another's orbit for the best part of a decade, the fleeting and often explosive addition of Ibrahimovic to the equation has usually left fans wanting more.

It is churlish to bemoan the lack of spectators given the ongoing gravity of the global situation but some occasions miss a live audience more than others. This potentially final installment of a flashpoint rivalry was one of those.

Although this match eventually made a case of its own, they were never likely to top the stupendous 2013 World Cup qualification play-off, where the pair scored all the goals over two legs that concluded with Portugal eliminating Sweden on away goals. Morricone could have gone to town on that one. Drama, tension, plot-twists, elation, despair. It had everything.

Almost seven years on, each player is past the peak they revelled in back then, even if Ronaldo's absurd goal scoring numbers make a compelling counter-argument.

The passage of time necessitates refinement. Today they are wily, all-knowing stars in complete control and happy to exist on the margins, rather than all-action leading men – more Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino than his Man With No Name pomp.

This was their lot during a brooding first half. Ronaldo cut inside from the left win to thump a trademark dipping drive just beyond the far post. He was more frequently seen remonstrating with the officials, most notably when Ibrahimovic's penchant for martial arts was on display and his boot grazed the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's ear as he attacked a right-win set piece.

Ibrahimovic twice brought routine saves from Wojciech Szczesny before breaking clear in stoppage time. 1-0? No, cut! Offside, and the deadlock remained.

Tearing the length of the field to score goal-of-the-season contenders might no longer be Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic's game, but Adrien Rabiot happily made that his business in the 47th minute.

The former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder barged Franck Kessie out of the way and nutmegged Theo Hernandez to cross the halfway line on the right wing. Rabiot then opened his elegant stride to breeze beyond Alessio Romagnoli and brought things to a thrilling crescendo. As Milan's defence scattered he unfurled a majestic left-footed strike into the top-right corner.

A befuddled Rossoneri were struggling to regain composure – none too effectively in the case of Andrea Conti and Simon Kjaer, who got in each other's way defending Juan Cuadrado's raking ball.

And there he was. Ronaldo, finger on the trigger. Goal 26 of the Serie A campaign was a formality and Juve were going 10 points clear of a faltering Lazio.

Only, one man had other ideas. It was time for an audacious third-act twist almost too implausible for any composition.

The VAR playback of the 62nd-minute scene did no favours for Leonardo Bonucci. Handball. Penalty. Of course Ibrahimovic stepped up. Of course he scored.

There he was again four minutes later, that strapping back onto which you could probably project movies facing the Juventus goal. Ibrahimovic's penalty box presence was as booming as his lay-off was deft. Kessie was on hand for a redemptive finish, his earlier humiliation at the hands of Rabiot forgotten.

Ibrahimovic then left the chaos, his part played perfectly. But Milan were not done as Ronaldo's compatriot Rafael Leao ensured 0-2 had become 3-2 in the space of five berserk minutes.

If he'd been tasked with soundtracking this undulating drama, Morricone might have been tearing up his score at this point. At the very least, the keen Roma fan would have been disgruntled at the unlikely lifeline handed to Lazio's ailing Scudetto bid.

A roof-falling-in error from Alex Sandro allowed Ante Rebic to complete a 4-2 triumph. Six goals, the perfect number.

At full-time, Ibrahimovic strode around, a picture of satisfaction. Topless, of course. Just as Ronaldo, beaten and wounded, would have done had roles been reversed.

Perhaps the veteran Swede will survive the behind-the-scenes ructions at Milan to return next season. Is another sequel with the intoxicating sound and colour of the tifosi as opposed to the eerie emptiness of now too much to ask?

The touching pre-match tribute to Ennio Morricone, the great Italian film composer who died, aged 91, on Monday, fitted nicely for what was about to unfold at San Siro.

Possibly for the last time in their decorated careers, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – two of the most destructive gunslingers in modern European football – were ready to do battle as Milan and Juventus lined up.

More so than perhaps any other players of their generation, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic's on-field deeds have frequently carried cinematic qualities. From the rippling physiques and inimitable preening, to their seamless combination of brute force and artistry, both men scream Hollywood.

Characters who polarise the audience were always the best pegs for Morricone's irresistibly lush arrangements and Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic are good, bad and ugly to many all at the same time. If Lionel Messi's lack of overt edge leaves you cold, these two have always been your guys. Your antiheroes.

While Ronaldo and Messi existed unrelentingly in one another's orbit for the best part of a decade, the fleeting and often explosive addition of Ibrahimovic to the equation has usually left fans wanting more.

It is churlish to bemoan the lack of spectators given the ongoing gravity of the global situation but some occasions miss a live audience more than others. This potentially final installment of a flashpoint rivalry was one of those.

Although this match eventually made a case of its own, they were never likely to top the stupendous 2013 World Cup qualification play-off, where the pair scored all the goals over two legs that concluded with Portugal eliminating Sweden on away goals. Morricone could have gone to town on that one. Drama, tension, plot-twists, elation, despair. It had everything.

Almost seven years on, each player is past the peak they revelled in back then, even if Ronaldo's absurd goal scoring numbers make a compelling counter-argument.

The passage of time necessitates refinement. Today they are wily, all-knowing stars in complete control and happy to exist on the margins, rather than all-action leading men – more Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino than his Man With No Name pomp.

This was their lot during a brooding first half. Ronaldo cut inside from the left win to thump a trademark dipping drive just beyond the far post. He was more frequently seen remonstrating with the officials, most notably when Ibrahimovic's penchant for martial arts was on display and his boot grazed the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's ear as he attacked a right-win set piece.

Ibrahimovic twice brought routine saves from Wojciech Szczesny before breaking clear in stoppage time. 1-0? No, cut! Offside, and the deadlock remained.

Tearing the length of the field to score goal-of-the-season contenders might no longer be Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic's game, but Adrien Rabiot happily made that his business in the 47th minute.

The former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder barged Franck Kessie out of the way and nutmegged Theo Hernandez to cross the halfway line on the right wing. Rabiot then opened his elegant stride to breeze beyond Alessio Romagnoli and brought things to a thrilling crescendo. As Milan's defence scattered he unfurled a majestic left-footed strike into the top-right corner.

A befuddled Rossoneri were struggling to regain composure – none too effectively in the case of Andrea Conti and Simon Kjaer, who got in each other's way defending Juan Cuadrado's raking ball.

And there he was. Ronaldo, finger on the trigger. Goal 26 of the Serie A campaign was a formality and Juve were going 10 points clear of a faltering Lazio.

Only, one man had other ideas. It was time for an audacious third-act twist almost too implausible for any composition.

The VAR playback of the 62nd-minute scene did no favours for Leonardo Bonucci. Handball. Penalty. Of course Ibrahimovic stepped up. Of course he scored.

There he was again four minutes later, that strapping back onto which you could probably project movies facing the Juventus goal. Ibrahimovic's penalty box presence was as booming as his lay-off was deft. Kessie was on hand for a redemptive finish, his earlier humiliation at the hands of Rabiot forgotten.

Ibrahimovic then left the chaos, his part played perfectly. But Milan were not done as Ronaldo's compatriot Rafael Leao ensured 0-2 had become 3-2 in the space of five berserk minutes.

If he'd been tasked with soundtracking this undulating drama, Morricone might have been tearing up his score at this point. At the very least, the keen Roma fan would have been disgruntled at the unlikely lifeline handed to Lazio's ailing Scudetto bid.

A roof-falling-in error from Alex Sandro allowed Ante Rebic to complete a 4-2 triumph. Six goals, the perfect number.

At full-time, Ibrahimovic strode around, a picture of satisfaction. Topless, of course. Just as Ronaldo, beaten and wounded, would have done had roles been reversed.

Perhaps the veteran Swede will survive the behind-the-scenes ructions at Milan to return next season. Is another sequel with the intoxicating sound and colour of the tifosi as opposed to the eerie emptiness of now too much to ask?

Patrick Mahomes has signed a sensational 10-year contract extension with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The quarterback agreed a deal reportedly worth $503million with the Super Bowl champions, with $477m in guaranteed mechanisms, keeping him tied to the franchise through the 2031 season, when he will be 35.

The NFL MVP in 2018 and Super Bowl MVP in 2019, Mahomes was always expected to reset the QB market when he signed a new deal this offseason.

But for him to sign the richest contract in North American professional sports history on such a long contract was a huge development.

While it will likely see him sit top of the league's salary chart for many years to come, his new deal would have been music to the ears for some of the other QBs nearing a negotiating window.

Here, we look at those who also could be in line for a huge payday.
 

Deshaun Watson – Houston Texans

The man drafted just two spots below Mahomes at number 12 in 2017, Deshaun Watson, has ended years of quarterback woe in Houston.

Two consecutive AFC South crowns and a first playoff win last year have highlighted his credentials, with Mahomes and the Chiefs ultimately stopping the Texans in the divisional round in 2019.

Mahomes is second all time for yards-per-attempt among quarterbacks with at least 1,000 attempts and Watson is an impressive fifth on that list, averaging over eight YPA.

Dual threat Watson has 71 touchdowns to 29 interceptions in 38 career games, plus 1,233 yards and a further 14 scores on the ground.

The Texans are desperate to retain him and Mahomes' deal means the price-tag just went up, although the loss of number one target DeAndre Hopkins means the new season may prove to be more challenging.


Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott is in the midst of a long contract negotiation with the Dallas Cowboys which dates back to last year.

He has signed the franchise tag which is due to see him play the 2020 season on a one-year pact worth $31m, unless a long-term deal can be struck before the deadline. 

Prescott enjoyed a superb statistical season in 2019, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns to just 11 picks.

The 26-year-old will be eyeing similar production this year after the team retained wide receiver Amari Cooper and added CeeDee Lamb to the mix.

But whether he deserves top-tier QB money is a subject that divides opinion, as the Cowboys have only won one playoff game since he was drafted in 2016, while his career record in games decided by three points or fewer is just 7-7.
 

Lamar Jackson – Baltimore Ravens

One player who may be on a similar trajectory to Mahomes is Lamar Jackson, who has been revolutionising the QB position with his rushing ability.

He won the NFL MVP in 2019, rushing for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns in addition to 3,127 yards, 36 touchdowns and just six picks through the air as part of an offense that is tailored to his strengths.

Having only played two seasons, he still is one year away from being eligible to receive a contract extension on his rookie deal.

After the Baltimore Ravens were shocked by the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs, Jackson will be aiming to follow the path of Mahomes in winning the Super Bowl the year after being named MVP.

If he does that, a life-changing deal surely awaits, though the standard he set last year will be very hard to repeat.
 

Baker Mayfield – Cleveland Browns

Baker Mayfield was picked atop the same 2018 draft that saw the Ravens get incredible value to land Jackson at number 32.

The Cleveland Browns QB faces a huge third season in the NFL, one which will determine whether or not he will be seen as the franchise's future.

An excellent rookie season saw him earn a 93.7 QB rating, prompting the Browns to surround him with talent including receivers Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry, plus Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb.

But a sophomore slump saw him throw 21 picks as the team failed to live up to high expectations, slumping to 6-10, with Mayfield's QB rating dropping to 78.8.

In response, the Browns fired their head coach, bolstered a poor offensive line and assembled another impressive array of weapons around him for 2020.

Mayfield therefore has the opportunity to bounce back and earn a big contract, but if he does not produce, there will be fewer excuses available this time around.

Nemanja Matic earning a three-year contract extension to the widespread approval of the Old Trafford faithful would have seemed a fanciful state of affairs a year ago.

Like most of a lumpen midfield assortment, Matic suffered during Jose Mourinho's tenure and seemed to represent a chunk of the deadwood Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have to move on as part of his rebuilding process.

The 31-year-old has looked a player transformed this season, already putting in some quality work alongside a rapidly developing Scott McTominay and a much-improved Fred.

Bruno Fernandes' January arrival provided the club with a shot in the arm and Matic now finds himself as the classy enforcer in something approaching a fantasy midfield three alongside the Portugal star and a fit-again Paul Pogba.

A new contract was firmly on the cards for the former Chelsea man before "Project Restart" launched and Opta data shows how some fine performances during this short period of time have sealed the deal.

93.8 – Matic has completed almost 94 per cent of his passes in four appearances since the resumption, including an assist for Mason Greenwood during the 5-2 thrashing of Bournemouth. Compared to some of the other leading lights in his position in the Premier League, that places Matic alongside Liverpool's Fabinho (93.5 per cent), while he pulls up a little tidier than Chelsea's N'Golo Kante (90.2). Typically for a Manchester City holding midfielder, 96.1 per cent of Rodri's passes have found the target.

77.8 – Matic's percentage success in duels is up considerably from 56.6 per cent this season before lockdown. The fact he has contested 18, compared to 35 for Fabinho (60 per cent won), 30 for Kante (50 per cent won) and 31 for Rodri (45.2 per cent won) hints towards the dominant nature of United's performances at present.

37 – This season, Matic's displays have been shorn of the lethargy that afflicted him at times last term. He averages a tackle every 37 minutes, a slight increase in output from one every 40 before lockdown. That's comfortably more frequent than the famously all-action Kante (58 minutes per tackle) and Rodri (63.8 minutes per tackle)

108 – Over the course of 16 appearances this season, Matic has recovered possession 108 times. His minutes-per-recovery figures have remained consistent, 11.2 and 11.8 either side of the break. McTominay has knocked his number down from 11.8 to 9.6 minutes per interception since June, while Fred has made one every 7.2 minutes – the Brazilian's two English summertime outings amounting to 86 minutes in total.

International cricket returns when England and West Indies begin their three-Test series on Wednesday, albeit in unprecedented circumstances.  

Bio-secure venues minus spectators, home umpires, potential coronavirus substitutes and no saliva on the ball are just some of the consequences of attempting to play during a global health pandemic. It will be Test cricket, just not quite as we have come to know it.  

There will also be a noticeable change to England’s team, too. With Joe Root out due to the birth of his second child, Ben Stokes will captain the team for the first time.  

The opportunity to lead in a Test perhaps completes the circle for the all-rounder. An incident outside a Bristol nightclub in 2017 cost him the vice-captaincy, but he has rehabilitated his reputation through his actions, both on and off the field, to reclaim the position as Root's deputy. 

Now, at 29, Stokes is preparing to become the 81st Test captain for England. It is a one-off on this occasion, yet also a potential dress rehearsal for the future. Root is the same age as his team-mate but has been in charge since February 2017; the grind eventually takes a toll on all who fill the role – and the numbers suggest performances suffer with the added burden.  

Sitting fourth in the official Test rankings, England will be wary of asking their talismanic all-rounder to do too much. For now, though, this is an opportunity for Stokes to step in and demonstrate his capabilities as a captain (a role he has not filled in first-class cricket previously). 

He has been second in command, now it is time to take on the top job, albeit temporarily. 

A (RECENT) HISTORY LESSON

Stokes will be the 11th different player to lead England in the 21st century. The last three to take on the job – Root, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen – all started out with victories. 

Indeed, Michael Vaughan was the last skipper to suffer disappointment on his captaincy debut in the format, losing to South Africa at Lord's in July 2003. He was not aided by Nasser Hussain, the man who had stepped down prior to the match, dropping Graeme Smith when he had eight to his name. The left-hander went on to make 259 as the Proteas triumphed by an innings.

Mark Butcher stood in for a solitary game in August 1999, taking over with Hussain sidelined during the home series against New Zealand at Old Trafford. 

England drew that game but Butcher contributed just 14 runs in his two knocks during a weather-hit contest. He was dropped for the next game as England lost at The Oval to go down 2-1 in the series.

Cook was captain for 59 Tests – a record for England – while Michael Atherton (54), Vaughan (51) and Andrew Strauss (50) also made the half-century mark. Root's tally is at 39 and with a hectic itinerary mapped out over the next 18 months or so, dependent on any further complications caused by COVID-19, he will not have to wait too long to reach the milestone.

STOKES BY THE STATS 

To say Stokes is a key contributor for England is an understatement. His match-winning abilities with both bat and ball are hugely important as they bring balance to the XI. His presence means the attack can include five frontline bowlers without having to weaken the middle order. 

His overall statistics for Test cricket do not do justice to his talent. Stokes averages 36.5 with the bat in 63 Test appearances, yet he's recorded a mark of just over 47 across his 26 knocks since the start of 2019. 

Included is that unforgettable innings against Australia at Headingley last year, as he kept his side alive in the Ashes with an unbeaten 135. England chased down 359 on a fourth day that will live long in the memory for those who watched it, Stokes adding 73 with last-man Jack Leach – who contributed only a single to the cause – for company. 

The left-hander had already made a century in the previous Test of that series at Lord's, while earlier this year he hit 120 against South Africa in Port Elizabeth. 

Stokes passed 4,000 Test runs for his career during the series with the Proteas but now stands on the brink of another notable personal landmark.

He is just three shy of bringing up 150 wickets in the format. He posted career-best figures of 6-22 against West Indies in 2017, with his overall average against the men from the Caribbean a touch better than his career mark (31.09 compared to 32.68). 

THE NUMBERS GAME

So, is captaincy a hindrance or a help? Considering his importance to the team, England will be loathed to overburden Stokes, a factor that would be considered when deciding if he is the right candidate to replace Root for more than just the odd Test. 

Ian Botham - another great all-rounder - did not prosper during his stint as captain. His 12-Test reign saw him average a meagre 13.14 with the bat (his career number finished at 33.54) and ended with a pair during the 1981 Ashes. Freed of the responsibility as Mike Brearley took over, Botham produced a series of blistering performances to make sure England retained the urn, including an innings at Headingley comparable to Stokes' knock.

Kevin Pietersen, meanwhile, also found it a difficult role during his three matches in charge. The best player is not necessarily the ideal candidate. 

"The entertainers and the guys that have to carry that mantle in the team sometimes aren't the best captains, and sometimes struggle with the extra added pressure," Pietersen told talkSPORT.

"You get looked at completely differently. Responsibilities change, communication changes, the way in which you carry yourself in the dressing room changes. It's a difficult place to be. I struggled with it: I absolutely hated it, and I was rubbish."

Root has seen his batting output slip considerably since taking on the added responsibility. Having averaged 52.8 in his first 53 Tests, the right-hander has since made 3,005 runs at 42.9 in his games as captain. Good, but not great.

Vaughan too suffered a drop, averaging 36 in his 51 Tests in charge, compared to 51 for the rest of his career. Cook, however, improved during his tenure, going up from 44.6 to 46.6, as did fellow opener Atherton (35.3 to 40.6).

England will have to work out if the risk is worth the reward in terms of Stokes becoming captain, considering what he means to the side. At least the series opener against West Indies will offer a potential glimpse into the future. 

In what should have been the opening week of Wimbledon, Stats Perform News revisits an interview with analyst Craig O'Shannessy.

 

"By the end of that match, Rafa's mind was scrambled eggs."

Craig O'Shannessy was part of Dustin Brown's coaching team when the German qualifier sensationally eliminated two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal at the All England Club in 2015.

Through numbers, patterns and data, Australian pioneer O'Shannessy orchestrated the gameplan to send Nadal packing in the second round almost five years ago.

"After the match, I described that as organised chaos," O'Shannessy told Stats Perform News prior to the Australian Open in January. "A lot of times with Dustin it's pure chaos. Sometimes he wins with it, sometimes he loses. What gelled was we organised his chaos so that people didn't know him, would've looked at that thinking all hell is breaking loose. Whereas I'm watching the match going 'he is running the patterns that we talked about perfectly'.

"It's about taking away what Rafa wanted to do. It's about attacking him early on the point, it's about attacking him wide of the forehand, going after returns simply because you know where the serve is going, about drop shots and bringing him in. It's just about messing with his mind and making it very unclear."

O'Shannessy – recognised as a world leader in teaching and analysis – has continued to transform the sport. He teamed up with Novak Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017 and helped the Serb rise back to the top with four grand slams in three years.

Now working with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, O'Shannessy crunches the numbers for his players.

Struff – with mastermind O'Shannessy in his box – threatened to derail Djokovic's quest for a record-extending eighth Australian Open title before the defending champion fought hard to survive in the opening round in Melbourne, where he eventually hoisted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup aloft.

"Every single match the player receives a pre-match report that has text, specific details about what the players like to do, I'll put in a bunch of numbers, tables and graphs particularly on serve patterns and rally length, then video," he said. "You just keep hammering away and supporting the winning strategy in as many different ways as you can."

At the forefront of analytics in tennis, how further can data go?

"Still a long away. We're only scratching the surface," O'Shannessy said. "There's a lot of numbers and data that we see but still don't know exactly what it means. The next five years will be incredibly important and we'll know way more than we do now. We're just at the start of the journey."

On data and patterns, O'Shannessy added: "For example, when you're returning, you can't cover everything. Players that try to cover everything, basically end up covering nothing. You look at it by the point score, if a player is at 30-30, they really need the point. If they're at 40-15, they don't necessarily need the point.

"So the players will have the tendency to gravitate to certain locations when they need that point and if you're sitting there waiting for it, all of a sudden the advantage of that point gets completely turned around. Instead of the returner being unbalanced, the server is off balance because the return is coming back harder and faster. They're on defence instead of offence.

"Early in my coaching career, I naturally put a big emphasis on the opponent, the idea being you're going to play 50 matches in a year and you may only play two or three where you think you've played incredible. The other 47 it's going to be your B or C game that triumphs, so the more you can understand it's not about you playing phenomenal tennis, it's about making them play bad. That mentality takes the pressure off and delivers it to the other side of the court."

Then there is artificial intelligence. Stats Perform harnesses the true power of sports data by leveraging advancements in AI to generate the industry's richest insights, though it is relatively untapped in tennis.

"AI is able to crunch some very big data and make sense of it," O'Shannessy added. "The ability to do forecasting through there about percentages and situations. I'm already looking at the best way to incorporate AI and the end result to basically help players win more matches."

World number 34 Struff also shared his thoughts on AI and numbers in an interview with Stats Perform News in April.

"Yes of course," Struff said when asked if AI will become more important in tennis. "I don't know exactly what the other players are doing on that area. You are always trying to hide these things. Nobody wants to talk about what he is doing, how his fitness training looks like and such things.

"Everybody is trying to hide himself, so the opponents don't see if certain things are working out or not. This is to prevent the other guys from copying certain things and actually catching up. But this is definitely going to come."

Bayern Munich ran out 4-2 winners in the DFB-Pokal final to complete their domestic double and hand an unfitting potential farewell to Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz.

Leverkusen managing director Rudi Voller declared Havertz to be the finest player in his club's history during the build-up to the showpiece, while also noting there is an agreement with the 21-year-old that he can leave this coming close season if certain conditions are met.

Chelsea and Real Madrid have been listed among a host of clubs purportedly interested in Havertz, who endured a mixed outing at the Olympiastadion.

Playing as the most advanced forward for Peter Bosz's side during the first half, he looked on as David Alaba and Serge Gnabry established a commanding Bayern lead.

Dropping into an attacking midfield role after the break, Havertz was far more influential and concluded the match by scoring a stoppage-time penalty.

However, Robert Lewandowski's brace meant more silverware for Bayern and the type of success Havertz might be chasing in different colours come September.

Here, we take a blow-by-blow look at his performance.

4th minute – Received the ball on the halfway line but an attempted pass to release Nadiem Amiri was cut out in midfield. Havertz completed 67.7 per cent of his passes on the night.

7th minute – Sized up Alaba on the right but was easily dispossessed. He would lose possession on 20 occasions – more than any other Leverkusen player.

15th minute – After an earlier tetchy altercation with Alaba, Havertz prevented fellow Germany international Joshua Kimmich from taking a quick free-kick. A shove and a talking to from referee Tobias Welz followed.

20th minute – A cute lay-off to Julian Baumgartlinger ended with Wendell in a promising position on the left but the full-back's cross was blocked.

21st minute – The latest instalment in Havertz's personal battle with Kimmich did not go well as the Bayern man muscled him away from the ball to launch an attack, where Thomas Muller almost made it 2-0.

24th minute – Charles Aranguiz's lofted pass looking for Leverkusen's star man ran through to Manuel Neuer. Within a minute, Gnabry thrashed beyond Lukas Hradecky to double Bayern's lead.

27th minute – Havertz's frustration was clear as he again tangled with Kimmich in futile fashion, giving away a free-kick with a slide tackle of the agricultural variety.

33rd minute – Got in front of Alaba for a lovely takedown on halfway but his turning left-footed throughball was intercepted.

42nd minute – The offside flag meant it would not have counted in any case, but Amiri delaying his cross, Havertz falling over and then regaining his footing before the ball failed to reach him summed up a half to forget. Amiri made way for Kevin Volland at the interval.

60th minute – Havertz fashioned a little room on the right-hand side of the area, only to be snuffed out by Alphonso Davies and Alaba. Volland's earlier air shot in the area and Hradecky's howling error for Lewandowski's first meant it mattered little.

63rd minute – Operating increasingly from the right with Volland leading the line, Havertz got the run on the quicksilver Davies and delivered a teasing low cross that Alaba was forced to clear behind with Leon Bailey poised. From the resulting corner, Bender powered home.

66th minute – Came deep to drive a move from midfield. A searching cross from the right by Moussa Diaby narrowly evaded Volland and Havertz.

68th minute – Bailey's raking pass found Havertz on the right and he almost picked out his team-mate with a return cross.

71st minute – Bayern were now struggling to contain Havertz, who collected the ball menacingly 30 yards from goal. Unfortunately for Leverkusen, Volland was not equal to the pass he slid through.

75th minute – Again showing his influence in from central midfield, Havertz set Bailey on another menacing dribble, with the winger's shot deflected behind. The cutting edge Lewandowski showed in completing the scoring was sorely lacking from Leverkusen's period of mid-half ascendancy.

94th minute – In perhaps his last act in a Leverkusen shirt, Havertz thundered a consolation penalty into the top-left corner after VAR spotted a handball by Davies.

Gianluigi Buffon broke Paolo Maldini's record for Serie A appearances in Saturday's Turin derby, playing for the 648th time in Italy's top flight.

Buffon, 41, was an Italy team-mate of former Milan defender Maldini, who retired in 2009 at the age of 40.

The iconic goalkeeper broke in the Parma first team as a teenager before joining Juve in 2001 in a £32.6million deal, making him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper at the time.

It proved to be money well invested as he spent 17 years in a first spell with the Turin giants, staying at the club following relegation amid Italian football's Calciopoli scandal and helping Juventus reel off seven successive Scudetti before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain in 2018.

After a year in France, Buffon returned to Juventus last July, competing with Wojciech Szczesny for the starting role in Maurizio Sarri's team since then.

Below, we have used Opta data to highlight the remarkable longevity of Buffon's career.

17 – Buffon made his Serie A debut for Parma on November 19, 1995 at the age of 17 years and 295 days. It was a 0-0 draw against Milan.

648 – Since then, Buffon has gone on to rack up 648 appearances in Italy's top flight, including Saturday's clash with Torino that has seen him break Maldini's record.

42 – Buffon is the third-oldest player to feature in Serie A during the three-points era, behind only Marco Ballotta (44 years, 38 days) and Francesco Antonelli (42 years, 235 days).

23 – This is Buffon's 23rd season in professional football. Having signed a new contract, he will play a 24th campaign in 2020-21.

247 – Giorgio Chiellini signed a new contract at the same time as Buffon. The centre-back is the player Buffon has most regularly played with in Serie A, 247 times.

480 – No one has played more Serie A games for Juventus, with Buffon's 480 two more than Alessandro del Piero's haul.

9 – Buffon has won nine Serie A titles, more than any other player. He could yet add a 10th later this month.

285 – The veteran had kept 285 clean sheets in 647 Serie A matches prior to the Turin derby, which is a record.

If it was a night that carried the now familiar whiff of fireworks for Liverpool, it was one that reeked of total humiliation for Manchester City.

Even after dazzling showings from their goalscorers Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden in an irresistible 4-0 win, the gap is 20 points. The analysis of where a Premier League title defence helmed by the most celebrated coach of a generation went so far awry should be unsparing.

But, as Pep Guardiola has pointed out frequently since the Premier League title was ceded to Merseyside, City still have plenty to play for this season. The EFL Cup can still be joined in the trophy cabinet by the FA Cup and the Champions League.

They started tentatively – their trademark passing from the back dangerously pedestrian against the most ravenous press in world football, even allowing for the prospect of a week's liquid refreshment drawing some of its bite.

Ederson made a double save from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino before the former skipped inside Eric Garcia to hit the post.

At that point, Guardiola's mind might have flashed back to a match that was both stinging for him as a proud Catalan and hugely significant in his own career.

After Barcelona surrendered LaLiga to Real Madrid in 2007-08, Frank Rijkaard's side performed a guard of honour for their bitter rivals – albeit at a braying Santiago Bernabeu as opposed to a deserted Etihad Stadium – and were soundly beaten 4-1.

It was an abject embarrassment that rubber-stamped the end of Rijkaard's tenure and Guardiola's elevation from the B team.

His rise has continued more or less unchecked ever since, except for encounters with Jurgen Klopp teams.

A win here does little to remove the stains of an inadequate title defence, but another league loss to follow the error-strewn reverse at Chelsea that gift-wrapped the trophy Liverpool craved beyond all others could have done significant damage.

A creaky defence, all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero crocked, Leroy Sane in Munich never to return. As Salah led blue shirts a merry dance during the opening exchanges, it was easy to see more Mancunian misery unfolding.

But De Bruyne was having absolutely none of that. The Premier League's outstanding player was about to take apart the Premier League's outstanding team.

Even as his team-mates struggled to find their footing early on, two glorious passes released Gabriel Jesus, only for the Brazil forward to mistime his runs.

Guardiola's heart will have been in his mouth when his midfield talisman trod on the ball and landed in a twisted heap for a rare unsuccessful assault on the Liverpool backline.

Hopes of FA Cup and Champions League glory can be launched into the sky with whatever assortment of corner shop explosives you like if City don't have De Bruyne fully fit.

It feels like a trick of the mind that the Belgium playmaker was confined to the margins by two medial knee ligament injuries last term, as City edged Liverpool in that titanic title tussle. He is the heart and soul of a team that has shown too little of those qualities as a collective at times in 2019-20.

The supporting cast sparkled here, though, with Sterling enjoying an overdue night of revelry against his former employers.

According to most versions of events, Joe Gomez handled a rampaging Sterling far more effectively in the St George's Park canteen last November than he did here.

The Liverpool centre-back grappled to foul his international team-mate and De Bruyne slotted the opener from the penalty spot. Gomez could not stop Sterling doubling the advantage and was substituted at half-time.

By that point, De Bruyne had pinged a one-two into the path of Foden for an ebullient finish. There was no let-up early in the second period – Jesus drove at the Liverpool defence and shot too close to Alisson, Sterling saw an effort deflected wide after a run of his own and Virgil van Dijk intervened in the goalmouth to deny Foden.

There was undoubted catharsis in all of this for City, as De Bruyne worked through his full repertoire. Another pass of geometric precision had the insatiable Sterling looking for number four, which arrived as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his fine scoring run in this fixture in the wrong net.

A headed attempt by De Bruyne to make it five was more Ballon p'Or than Ballon d'Or, but his unrelenting brilliance was the source of relief and pride for City and Guardiola. In the wider context this result can mean little more.

Nevertheless, they have a base camp for the next instalment of a domestic rivalry that has enthralled for three years. "Next season starts today," a defiant Sterling told Sky Sports afterwards.

In Europe, they could be punting for the big prize next month with a two-season ban confirmed. De Bruyne operating in that last chance saloon is a terrifying prospect for anyone.

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