Will Mauro Icardi sign a new Inter contract or not?

That remains to be seen after star striker Icardi was stripped of the Inter captaincy.

Icardi's relationship with Inter and their fans has been far from rosy since arriving from Sampdoria in 2013.

With Icardi facing an uncertain future, Omnisport looks at the timeline of the events that have transpired in Milan.

 

October 7, 2016 - Icardi signs a new deal following interest from rivals Napoli.

October 16, 2016 - Curva Nord want Icardi stripped of the captaincy following comments made in his autobiography 'Sempre Avanti'. Icardi claimed that he became "a hero" to his team-mates after confronting an ultra leader following a 3-1 defeat to Sassuolo the season prior. Inter's most prominent ultras faction insist Icardi is "finished" at the club.

October 17, 2016 - Inter sanction Icardi but he retains the armband, much to the frustration of the Curva Nord - who denounce the Argentinian as their skipper.

October 21, 2016 - Paolo Fontanesi, author of the book, says the biography "will be reprinted" following the controversy.

January 16, 2017 - Wanda Nara claims Icardi has offers from China.

March 30, 2017 - Icardi says he "loves" playing for Inter and wants to "stay here forever".

December 16, 2017 - Nara refuses to dismiss the possibility of a move to LaLiga giants Real Madrid. "I do not know anything, I do not say yes or no. Mauro would stay at Inter all his life, but it depends on other things."

April 4, 2018 - Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio says there is no rush on Icardi's contract renewal.

May 13, 2018 - Icardi admits he could leave Inter but only if it is in the best interests of the club.

September 3, 2018 - Nara claims Juventus and Napoli were both interested in signing Icardi during the transfer window, revealing she met with the latter's president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

October 18, 2018 - Icardi says he is happy to stay at Inter. "We will try to find a renewal, but I don't know if it will arrive before Christmas."

December 18, 2018 - Nara says Inter and Icardi are still "very far" apart in contract negotiations amid links with Madrid.

January 9, 2019 - Nara reiterates that a renewal is a "long way off" after Ausilio suggests a new offer is on the table for Icardi, adding a number of European clubs are monitoring the forward.

January 21, 2019 - After Inter chief Giuseppe Marotta says Icardi will re-sign, Nara reveals a new contract is virtually a "100 per cent" certainty.

February 13, 2019 - Icardi is stripped of the captaincy and replaced by goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, before being left out of the Europa League squad to face Rapid Vienna.

February 17, 2019 - Icardi watches from the stands as Inter beat former club Sampdoria 2-1 in Serie A.

February 17, 2019 - Nara later claims Icardi has no intention to leave Inter after losing the armband.

El Clasico returns on Wednesday for the first of three meetings between Barcelona and Real Madrid inside the next month, evoking memories of their four showdowns in quick succession back in 2011.

Spain's two biggest clubs face each other in the Copa del Rey semi-finals, while they are also due to meet in LaLiga at the start of March, a game which could define their respective seasons.

It is not the first time the two great rivals have faced off so often in a short period, however, as 2011 saw them battle across LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and Champions League in the space of 18 days.

A contentious period, those games are arguably memorable as much for the off-field histrionics of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola as the actual football…

 

The (relative) calm before the storm

Opening the quadruple-header was a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu on April 16 which effectively secured Barca the 2010-11 league title. Although the second half entertained, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both scoring from the spot and Raul Albiol getting himself sent off, there was a feeling the two teams were ensuring they did not deplete their fuel reserves ahead of the matches on the horizon. Barca remained eight points clear and on course for LaLiga, but much more was yet to come.

'He criticises the referee when he makes correct decisions' – Mourinho baits Guardiola

If Madrid were able to take one thing away from this historic four-match tussle, it was preventing Barca winning the treble – Ronaldo's extra-time goal sealing a 1-0 Copa del Rey final triumph on April 20, despite Angel Di Maria getting a late red card. A correctly disallowed Pedro goal resulted in some bizarre Guardiola criticism, surmising the assistant "must have great eyesight to spot that Pedro was two centimetres offside". The subsequent response was vintage Mourinho.

"Up until now there was a very small group of coaches who didn't talk about referees and a very large group, in which I am included, who criticise referees," he said. "Now, with Pep's comments, we have started a new era with a third group, in which there is only him, that criticises the referee when he makes correct decisions. This is completely new to me." And so, the bait was laid…

'Mourinho is the f****** chief, the f****** boss'

Mourinho has had an almost unrivalled knack of riling people throughout his career, whether that is journalists, fans, players or opposing coaches. Guardiola fell into the trap ahead of the Champions League semi-final first leg on April 27, responding to his rival's previous comments. "In this room [the Bernabeu's press room], Mourinho is the f****** chief, the f****** boss," Guardiola said.

"He knows all about this [mind games] and I don't want to compete with him in here. I'd just like to remind him that I worked with him for four years [at Barcelona]. He knows me and I know him. I try to learn from Jose on the pitch, but I prefer to learn as little as possible from him off the pitch."

Messi dazzles in 'scandal at the Bernabeu'

The first Champions League meeting was a fractious, ugly affair, as the two sides kicked lumps out of each other, harassed the officials and conspired to get each other sent off at almost every opportunity. Pepe was the one to pay the price, catching Dani Alves with a high foot and consequently shown a red card after most of the Barca team surrounded the referee.

Messi then stepped up, opening the scoring with a neat finish, before wrapping things up with a brilliant solo effort after dribbling past Lassana Diarra, Albiol and Sergio Ramos. Mourinho – who was sent off for his protestations after Pepe's dismissal – labelled it a "scandal at the Bernabeu", suggesting the officials were biased in Barca's favour.

Guardiola's 'most beautiful' night en route to Barca's double

Messi's efforts in the first leg gave Madrid too much to do at Camp Nou as Mourinho – serving a five-match ban for his "scandal" comments – had to give it a miss. A 1-1 draw saw Barca go through to the final, where they beat Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley, while they also held their nerve to win the league title.

"This has been one of the most beautiful nights I have ever lived," Guardiola said after the draw with Los Blancos, bringing a sorry saga to a less contentious end.

Romain Ntamack's selection has caught the eye ahead of France's opening Six Nations fixture, but the 19-year-old is only one of a host of young stars who could be given a chance to shine by Jacques Brunel over the coming weeks and months.

The youngest player in the championship and son of former Les Blues wing Emile, Ntamack will start at centre alongside the vastly experienced Wesley Fofana when France host Wales on Friday night.

Ntamack has been picked ahead of Mathieu Bastareaud, a move that suggests Brunel is eager to refresh a team that lost eight of its 11 Tests in 2018.

However, while Bastareaud has not even made the matchday 23 on this occasion, the other six members of the 30 and over brigade in France's squad will all start against Wales.

Fofana and skipper Guilhem Guirado are joined in the line-up by Louis Picamoles, Morgan Parra, Yoann Huget and Maxime Medard, with the latter duo both coming into the Six Nations on the back of strong form at club level.

For the time being at least, therefore, there will be plenty of familiar names in France's team, but that may not be the case for much longer.

With the exception of Stade Rochelle back Geoffrey Doumayrou, who is 29, all of Brunel's replacements for the Wales game are aged 25 or under, with 20-year-old prop Demba Bamba the youngest of them and the likes of Baptiste Serin (24), Gael Fickou (24) and Julien Marchand (23) also set to earn some game time on Friday.

In addition, there are several more youngsters in France's 31-man squad, all ready to be called upon should injuries or poor form bring about changes.

Uncapped full-back Thomas Ramos (23), halves Anthony Belleau and Antoine Dupont (both 22), and forwards Pierre Bourgarit (21), Fabien Sanconnie (23) and Yacouba Camara (24) represent youthful options outside of Brunel's initial 23-man selection for the Wales fixture.

And given France's string of poor results in recent times, few of the more established names can consider their places truly safe, particularly with hopes high for a new generation - including Ntamack - that secured glory at the Under-20 World Cup last June.

The Six Nations is understandably Brunel's primary focus at present as France look to improve on a fourth-placed finish in 2018, when they did at least run Grand Slam winners Ireland closer than anyone before being sunk by a last-gasp drop goal from Johnny Sexton.

Yet it would be no surprise if further members of the successful U20 team, not currently in France's senior squad, are pushing for caps by the time the Rugby World Cup comes around in September.

One name to watch is Jordan Joseph, who starred in that U20 World Cup campaign at the age of 17. The 2019 RWC might come just too soon for the Racing 92 number eight, who is considered one of the most talented teenagers in world rugby.

Regardless of whether Joseph breaks through in the near future, it is clear France have no shortage of options when it comes to young talent.

As Guirado, Picamoles, Huget and Medard gear up for what is likely to be their final tilt at a world title, it feels like the next crop of French stars are poised to emerge.

Novak Djokovic secured a record seventh Australian Open title with his thrashing of Rafael Nadal in Sunday's final.

The Serbian star moved on to 15 major crowns after dismantling Nadal 6-3 6-2 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena.

Almost half of Djokovic's grand slams have come in Melbourne, including his first in 2008.

We take a look back at all of his Australian Open successes.

2008 – A maiden grand slam title

Aged 20, this was Djokovic's fourth main-draw appearance in Melbourne and his previous best had been the fourth round the year prior.

But he produced a flying run to the final, beating Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets in the last 16 and top seed Roger Federer in the semis.

Djokovic, the third seed, was left with a surprise opponent in the final and he made the most of his chance, coming from a set down to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

It was the first grand slam since the 2005 Australian Open not won by either Federer or Nadal.

2011 – The beginning of complete Melbourne dominance

Djokovic had to wait three years for his second title in Melbourne, but it started a wonderful run of dominance.

He was largely untouchable again on his way to the final, including wins over top-10 seeds Tomas Berdych and Federer.

Djokovic crushed Andy Murray 6-4 6-2 6-3 in the decider to win the first of an incredible three grand slams in 2011.

 

2012 – Coming through two epics

This would be a major best remembered for two matches – Djokovic's semi and final.

He took almost five hours to get past Murray in the last four in a match that seemed certain to ruin his chances in the decider.

Somehow, Djokovic came through that too, beating Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 in the longest Open Era grand slam final, which went for a gruelling five hours, 53 minutes.

2013 – Hat-trick complete

Djokovic extended his winning streak at the Australian Open to 21 matches with a third straight title.

He became the first man in the Open Era to win a hat-trick of titles in Melbourne.

Djokovic took five hours to get past Stan Wawrinka – the man who would break his run the following year – in the fourth round before again beating Murray in a final.

 

2015 – Another Wawrinka marathon, another Murray final

Fernando Verdasco and Milos Raonic were unable to stop Djokovic and, this time, Wawrinka failed too.

Djokovic beat the Swiss star in a five-set semi-final before a familiar face stood between him and another title.

Murray managed to split the first two sets, but Djokovic ran away with it from there 6-3 6-0 for a fifth crown.

2016 ­– Record equalled after Simon scare

It was the fourth round that proved to be the biggest scare in Djokovic's bid for a record-equalling sixth Australian Open title.

But he got through another gruelling five-setter, this time against French 14th seed Gilles Simon.

Kei Nishikori, Federer and Murray were unable to stop him from there as Djokovic joined Roy Emerson on six Australian Open crowns.
 

2019 – Record claimed in flawless fashion

For a six-time champion and the world number one, this seemed like a quiet run by Djokovic.

He dispatched of up-and-comers Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev, spent less than an hour on court with an exhausted Nishikori and was almost flawless against Lucas Pouille.

Only Nadal stood between him and a record seventh Australian Open title in a repeat of their epic 2012 final.

And Djokovic may have saved his best performance for the final, dismantling Nadal in just over two hours.

Novak Djokovic delivered the most emphatic reminder as to why he is the king of Melbourne with his stunning triumph over a stunned Rafael Nadal.

The Serbian alone can now lay claim to the crown at the Australian Open, winning a record seventh title by crushing long-time Nadal on Sunday. But even by his incredibly lofty standards, what Djokovic produced on Rod Laver Arena was special.

This was a display of the utmost precision at times verging on baseline bullying. A ruthless rout of a fellow all-time great who simply had no answer to the irresistible force on the other side of the net. This was the most startling example of what Djokovic can do on the Melbourne stage.

The 15-time grand slam champion – only Roger Federer (20) and Nadal (17) have claimed more – won 13 of the first 14 points and never looked back, romping to a 6-3 6-2 6-3 victory in just two hours, four minutes.

Djokovic went about his business relatively quietly on the way to the final, with Greek sensation and Federer conqueror Stefanos Tsitsipas taking most of the attention, alongside Nadal and his new serve. 

Remodelled and improved, Nadal's serve had not faced a test like this – and it did not hold up. The world's best returner was on the opposite side of the draw, and on Sunday the opposite side of the net. Nadal had almost nothing to offer in response, not via the serve or the forehand, as Djokovic hit lines and corners at will.

Nothing comes free from Djokovic and Nadal couldn't even get anything cheap. The Serbian lost just 13 points on serve. He committed just nine unforced errors.

Nadal was bidding to become the first man in the Open Era to win each of the majors twice. Now, he will have to defend his Roland Garros kingdom to stop Djokovic doing just that.

And the 'Nole Slam' is back on for a second time. Djokovic holds every major except the French Open. Only three men – Don Budge (1938), Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) and Djokovic (2015-16) have claimed the non-calendar year Grand Slam. None of his great rivals have managed what Djokovic is on the verge of doing twice.

A trip to the French Alps may have revitalised Djokovic last year, but he needs no invitation to rise to his best in Melbourne.

And on Sunday he took his crown, producing a performance befitting of a king.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will contest an eighth grand slam final on Sunday when they meet in the showpiece of the Australian Open.

The pair have 31 major titles between them and have served up numerous pulsating encounters over the course of their glittering careers.

It will be the second time the two have faced off in the final at Melbourne Park and, if this encounter lives up to that incredible match, the Rod Laver Arena crowd will be in for a treat.

Of the 52 meetings between Djokovic and Nadal, the Serbian has won 27 to the Spaniard's 25, and here we look at five of the best as they gear up to hopefully deliver another classic on the biggest stage.

2018 Wimbledon semi-final

The last Djokovic-Nadal offering was one fans were made to wait for, but the patience of supporters at the All England Club was rewarded.

A marathon semi-final between Kevin Anderson and John Isner meant Nadal and Djokovic did not take to the Centre Court until gone 20:00 local time, although the late start did not appear to hamper them as they played some electric tennis under the closed roof.

It was a stark contrast to the semi-final that had gone before; clean, crisp hitting with high-energy movement made for an enthralling affair, it was just a shame the 23:00 curfew forced them to stop after Djokovic edged a suitably brilliant third-set tie-break.

Nadal ensured Saturday's ticket-holders got more bang for their buck by forcing a decider with a successful challenge of a serve that was called out, having already staved off a trio of break points in a crucial game.

A stunning fifth set went in Djokovic's favour after Nadal, who had already saved a match point in game 16, slipped on a forehand and gave his opponent another three opportunities to win it.

Nadal went wide on the first one to bring the monumental meeting to an end and send the Serbian into his first major final since the 2016 US Open with a 6-4 3-6 7-6 (11-9) 3-6 10-8 triumph.

2015 French Open quarter-final

Roland Garros is Nadal's dominion.

He was already the most prolific at the French Open having won nine tiltes, but his wait for 'La Decima' would go on as Djokovic finally got the better of him in Paris - it only took seven attempts!

There was an aspect of vengeance for Djokovic, who lost the 2014 final to the King of Clay, when he handed Nadal just the second loss of his career at Roland Garros.

But such joys were shortlived as the Serbian failed to complete his career Grand Slam by losing to Stan Wawrinka in the showpiece on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Having almost been moved to tears by the reception he received from the crowd in the wake of his third French Open final loss, Djokovic said: "I respect the appreciation they showed me. It's something that definitely gives me even more motivation to come back and keep on trying."

He finally got his hands on the trophy the following year.

 

2013 French Open semi-final

Having missed the Australian Open amid seven months out with a serious knee injury, Nadal wasted little time in returning to his previous heights by booking his place in an eighth Roland Garros final – but he did not make it easy for himself.

The Spaniard missed a chance to serve out the match at 6-5 in the fourth set and soon found himself 4-2 down in the decider.

But Nadal, as Djokovic put it afterwards, showed "why he's been ruling Roland Garros for many years" by forging ahead and clinching a 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 9-7 triumph.

The final-set tussle lasted 87 minutes, but it was by no means their longest battle…

 

2012 Australian Open final

That honour belongs to this meeting at Melbourne Park, where Djokovic and Nadal, ranked first and second in the world respectively as they are now, played out the longest grand slam final in history – a record that still stands.

Nadal managed to force a decider after surrendering his one-set advantage and looked to be on course for an 11th major title when he took a 4-2 lead in the fifth.

But Djokovic showed the grit and drive that would see him dominate the ATP Tour for the next four and a half years, completing a 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 triumph in five hours and 53 minutes.

"Rafa, you're one of the best players ever. You're one of the most respected guys on the tour. We made history tonight," said the Serbian during the post-match presentation. "I hope we will have many more finals like this."

2009 Madrid Open semi-final

This was their fourth meeting in just over two months, and it proved to be an absolute stunner.

Nadal had beaten Djokovic in the Davis Cup and the finals of the Monte Carlo Masters and the Internazionali d'Italia as he diplayed why he is, without doubt, the King of Clay.

But the Serbian ran him close on home soil. Nadal saved three match points as he rallied from a set down to triumph 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (11-9) in a monstrous three-setter that took four hours and two minutes.

Reflecting on the encounter two years later, the Spaniard told the ATP: "It was a really emotional match. Seriously, I'm not very happy about how I played that match. I think I wasn't in the best moment of my career in that match, because I had the problems with the knees and personal problems. Thinking about that, it's even more important for me."

The Colombian playmaker drew back his left foot outside the penalty area and smashed home a spectacular goal via the underside of the crossbar.

It was a moment to illuminate a South American argument that fans will never forget, one to elevate a player already known in Europe but now on the cusp of superstar status.

As the Monaco-based but Real Madrid-bound James Rodriguez slayed Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup, his replacement at Porto, Juan Fernando Quintero, sat unused on the bench.

Over the next four years, James and his compatriot, two years his junior, would take their mercurial talents in sharply contrasting directions.

But following another remarkable goal (outside the box, left foot, in off the bar – you know the kind) to settle the mother of all rivalries in the Copa Libertadores showdown with Boca Juniors at the Santiago Bernabeu, the now 25-year-old Quintero is ready to potentially take centre stage for River Plate against European champions Madrid at the Club World Cup.

Porto woe and rock-bottom at Rennes

While James set about an up-and-down spell in the Spanish capital, effectively becoming surplus to requirements under Zinedine Zidane and joining Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal, Quintero's reality became increasingly distant from any dreams of representing European football's aristocrats.

The increasingly physical edge to top-level football evident during the first decade of the 2000s had given way and number 10s bearing the gifts of James and Quintero could flourish as fulcrums of the best teams in the world.

However, Quintero's fondness for another trait associated with the folk heroes of 20th century South American football – let's generously call it the high life – has all too often caught up with him during a time he should have flourished.

'Juanfer' is famously a party boy: friend of reggaeton stars, foe of the weighing scales.

As his poundage went up, his performances and value decreased. Unhappy with the return on their investment, Porto sent Quintero to Rennes on a season-long loan that collapsed somewhere between farce and apathy. The last of 12 Ligue 1 appearances came in February of the 2015-16 season. He scored once.

Hometown hero reborn

It took a stint back in his home city, the home of a tough upbringing where his father became one of the "disappeared" in Colombia's bloody civil conflict when Juanfer was just two, for a player of impish brilliance to rediscover the magic.

A loan with Independiente Medellin yielded 13 goals in 25 league appearances. There was a red card, too, but Quintero was back on an upward curve.

A third temporary spell away from Porto took him to River Plate for 2018 and the wily Jose Pekerman handed him a route out of international exile in time for the World Cup.

During a boisterous, celebratory group phase, Quintero and James were irresistible in tandem.

Despite Carlos Sanchez's third-minute red card, Quintero brought Colombia level in their opening 2-1 loss to Japan with a mischievous free-kick underneath the wall. He laid on Radamel Falcao's goal in the 3-0 win over Poland and hung a delicate corner in the air for Yerry Mina to power a winner past Senegal.

James missed the last-16 clash through injury and Quintero was unable to leave his mark on an ugly contest that ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat.

'I am not fat. I am a little short and I have a big ass.'

He was now back in the consciousness of the wider footballing world. Yet, as ever in Quintero's career of excellence, excess and exasperation, nothing is as simple as it appears.

In River's Copa Libertadores campaign, seven of his 12 appearances came via the bench. Not that it mattered much in the final reckoning, but it still feels an unsatisfactory return for a player of Quintero's obvious talent.

He endeared himself with a response to questions about his fitness earlier this year by replying: "I am not fat. I am a little short and I have a big ass." He also insisted his work rate was in order, even if River boss Marcelo Gallardo felt safer serving him a diet of substitute cameos.

Quintero clipped home the game-breaking goal against Independiente in the Libertadores quarter-final, an all-Buenos Aires affair dwarfed by the scale, loathing and violent upheaval of the Superclasico final against Boca Juniors.

Perhaps fittingly for such a fractious showdown, there was a savage beauty to Quintero's Bernabeu goal that put River in front for the first time in the tie and on the way to a 5-3 aggregate triumph.

Al Ain are up first in the Club World Cup for Gallardo's men, with a final against the winner of Real Madrid versus Kashima Antlers. Chinese Super League clubs are reportedly making eyes at Quintero but, with his wand of a left foot, he looks ready to cast a spell over European admirers all over again.

The end of the Champions League group stage is closing in, and on Tuesday the likes of Tottenham, Inter, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool will learn their fate.


The irony was certainly not lost on Carlos Tevez as he fielded questions on the final of the Copa Libertadores – a tournament named in honour of those who fought for South America's liberation from Spanish colonial rule in the early 19th century – at a Madrid training base.

"I thought myself to be the dumbest guy in [terms of] history knowledge…but these guys just beat me," the veteran Boca Juniors forward joked ahead of Sunday's showdown with River Plate in the Spanish capital. "That’s all I have to say."

Many others will have plenty to say about the long-delayed second leg between the two Grandes for some time to come. From the moment a group of River fans attacked the Boca team bus on its way to El Monumental, the whole situation has been an unseemly mess.

The romantic idea that the sound, colour and unbridled passion of a city enraptured by the beautiful game would produce a spectacle to savour went up in flare smoke and tear gas; the hopes of a truce holding firm after the 2-2 first-leg draw at La Bombonera proving forlorn.

"It's sad because we the players don't deserve to have to leave to another country and play the final in another country, they kicked us out," Tevez remarked, and it is true this feels like an occasion soiled and an opportunity missed to see the best of South American football, regardless of what happens at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

The unspecified "they" Tevez refers probably covers CONMEBOL, the continental federation who, along with FIFA, did not come out of the aftermath of the bus saga at all well.

As an expectant – and, it should be noted, non-violent – crowd inside the stadium waited along with a television audience of millions, the governing bodies pressed for the show to go on as Boca captain Pablo Perez was treated for injuries and had an eye-patch applied. Player welfare looked to have been placed below monetary concerns with shameful ease.

Following two postponements in as many days, with River showing solidarity as Boca protested it was impossible for the game to take place under conditions of sporting equality, CONMEBOL decided the solution was to take the game away from El Monumental.

Far from being a shamed fixture the world no longer wished to look at, potential suitors presented themselves. Paraguay's capital Asuncion seemed a logical quick fix, at least keeping the game in South America and allowing it to serve as a dry run for next season's switch to a one-off game at a neutral venue.

Doha and Miami were alternatives as glamorous as Genoa, the Italian port city from where Boca and River's immigrant founders set sail, was romantic. But, in a decision protested by both finalists, Madrid was selected as the alternative host – a European city steeped in footballing tradition like no other.

The bigger picture for CONMEBOL chief Alejandro Dominguez, who has been clear over his ambitions of the federation reaching its commercial potential since being elected in 2016, offered alluring possibilities. 

South America's most famous fixture can now be associated with one of the world's most famous football grounds, giving it a taste of the global profile the Champions League has nurtured over the past two decades.

This year's World Cup semi-final underlined Europe's status as the globe's dominant footballing continent. Passion verging on obsession and natural flair appear increasingly ill-equipped to bridge the gap.

Part of Argentina's appeal as a football culture is its authenticity, a trait evermore at odds with the big bucks of Europe's big five leagues. At a time when that authenticity is being lumped together as one with acts of violent hooliganism, it is hard not to see this Libertadores final as an opportunistic repositioning as much as it is a simple rescheduling.

The FIFA and UEFA stand-off over the future of the Club World Cup also lurks in the background and Gianni Infantino and others will watch on with interest as Buenos Aires' finest grace the Madrid turf. If this works, why not a Champions League final in New York? Surely LaLiga can come to America after all?

That is the grubby reality of the latest – it should have been the greatest – instalment of this wonderful fixture. Instead of a celebration of the people's game and its enduring emotional grip, an assortment of vested interests will get to see what happens when celebrated clubs are transplanted from their communities.

The fear is they like what they see and a liberation of global football to chill many fans will be accelerated.

Schalke were the closest challengers to Bayern Munich last season as rivals Borussia Dortmund underwent a transitional campaign.

But ahead of Saturday's latest edition of the Revierderby at Veltins-Arena, the gap between the two Ruhr clubs is vast – Lucien Favre's swashbuckling team lead the Bundesliga from Borussia Monchengladbach and RB Leipzig, with Bayern Munich nine points back in fourth.

By contrast, Domenico Tedesco's Schalke are languishing in 12th on a mere 14 points from 13 games.

Such relative periods of feast and famine are perhaps to be expected from two clubs who make recruiting the best young talent a central part of their strategy.

Here are six of the players who could catch the eye this weekend with points and local pride on the line.

Christian Pulisic - Dortmund, 20

According to reports, Pulisic is said to be a major target for Chelsea. It is easy to see why when he is in full-flight, as the winger is a fine dribbler, able to cut inside or go up the flank and he sees the game like someone far more experienced. He has been in and out of the team this term, but the American is undoubtedly a star of the future.

Weston McKennie - Schalke, 20

McKennie, another gifted American, broke into Schalke's team last season and has proven a real asset. Although usually a defensive midfielder, his well-rounded attributes have helped him play several positions this term, including centre-back and just off the striker. Athletic, good on the ball and a fine reader of the game, in the long run McKennie could prove to be a solid successor to the recently-departed Leon Goretzka.

Jadon Sancho - Dortmund, 18

Probably one of the most talked-about young players in the world, Sancho has been a revelation since joining from Manchester City at the start of last season. Recently given his first senior England call-up, Sancho has dazzled defences with his excellent ball control, eye-catching tricks and pace. However, he is not flash without the substance - he heads into Saturday's game with a commendable haul of four goals and six assists already this term.

Amine Harit - Schalke, 21

Morocco midfielder Harit was named Bundesliga Rookie of the Season after moving to Gelsenkirchen – heights he has not quite scaled this time around. But a first league goal of the campaign in the 5-2 win over Nurnberg at the end of last month served due warning to Dortmund. Harit scored Schalke's second in last season's incredible 4-4 draw between the sides at Signal Iduna Park.

Abdou Diallo - Dortmund, 22

Having beaten the now familiar path from Mainz to Dortmund, France Under-21 international Diallo has established himself as a centre-back of rare elegance and composure, already making great strides under Favre's shrewd stewardship. Even though he is part of a talent-stacked generation, a long career representing Les Bleus appears on the cards.

Suat Serdar - Schalke, 20

A team-mate of Diallo's at Mainz last season, Serdar has shown adaptability to fill a number of midfield roles in Tedesco's side. The Germany Under-21 player's tidy style was reported to have caught the eye of Barcelona after September's 1-1 Champions League draw against Porto.

Chelsea announced a new five-year deal for N'Golo Kante on Friday and his statistics show it is a fitting reward for the France international.

After being instrumental in Leicester City's shock 2015-16 Premier League title success, he was subsequently snapped up by Chelsea and has become a key figure at Stamford Bridge. 

Kante joined Chelsea for a reported £30million in 2016 and enjoyed a seamless transition, instantly becoming a vital cog in Antonio Conte's title-winning side in his debut season.

Chelsea suffered last term, but Kante remained a standout figure, winning the club's Player of the Year award.

He has continued that trend under Maurizio Sarri, playing every minute in the Premier League for the former Napoli coach, and over the course of his Chelsea career Kante has been one of the most effective in his position, as Opta data shows…

54 – Kante has played in 54 Premier League victories since his club debut in August 2016. Only seven players have won more. Team-mate Cesar Azpilicueta leads the way with 58.

657 – No outfield player has made as many ball recoveries in England's top flight since Kante joined Chelsea. Nemanja Matic, now at Manchester United, is second to him with 627.

262 – The France midfielder has attempted 262 tackles in a Chelsea shirt. Only Everton's Idrissa Gueye (310) has challenged an opponent more times.

172 – Of those 262 attempted tackles, Kante has been successful 172 times. Again, Gueye (228) is the only Premier League player with a better record over the same time period.

177 – Kante pips Gueye to top spot in terms of interceptions, though, with his 177 being six more than the Toffees enforcer.

88.99 – Kante has been successful with 88.99 per cent of his passes, the 20th best record of players to have attempted 999 or more.

4,967 – However, Kante's passing accuracy is made more impressive by the fact he tried almost 5,000. Of the 19 players with a greater success percentage, only Nicolas Otamendi (5,332) has attempted more than the Chelsea man, while John Stones (3,380) is their closest challenger.

Paul Pogba was the star of the show in the last Manchester derby as his quick-fire double provided the catalyst for a remarkable turnaround.

Liverpool fans were given a rare glimpse of £39million close-season signing Fabinho on Wednesday as he was handed a start for the 4-0 Champions League victory over Red Star, and will surely have been impressed with what they saw.

Eden Hazard has consistently been one of the Premier League's best players since he joined from Lille in 2012, but he has seemingly found another level following Maurizio Sarri's appointment.

Mohamed Salah has endured a somewhat underwhelming start to the 2018-19 season, but he will have no better opportunity to silence his doubters than against Premier League champions Manchester City on Sunday. 

Page 1 of 3
© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.