Luka Doncic has been likened to LeBron James and the duo's rookie numbers certainly show the Dallas Mavericks sensation and the Los Angeles Lakers superstar are comparable at this stage of the Slovenian's career.

It was Dwyane Wade who said 19-year-old Doncic's passing ability was "LeBron James-like" after facing the Mavs with the Miami Heat last week.

Doncic, the third overall pick in last year's draft, is the clear frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award, a prize James took home in 2003-04 when he was a teenager playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Four-time MVP James has gone on to establish himself as one of the greatest to ever play the game, and the statistics from his rookie campaign are remarkably similar to Doncic's debut season in Dallas.

With the help of Opta, we take a look at the numbers for Doncic in 2018-19 and James in 2003-04.

Points per game: Doncic 20.7, James 20.9

James was one of 17 players to average at least 20 points per game and he finished his first season 13th, behind the likes of fellow rookie Carmelo Anthony (21) and Tracy McGrady, who led the entire NBA with 28.

A sign of how the league has changed is evidenced by the fact that, at the All-Star break, there were 30 players averaging at least 20 points and one, James Harden (36.6), averaging more than 30. In his 55 games to date, Doncic is averaging 7.3 fewer minutes on court than James but is providing similar production.

Rebounds per game: Doncic 7.2, James 5.5

James may be taller and bigger than Doncic, but the Slovenian is proving adept when it comes to boards.

The Mavs youngster ranks 36th in the league in rebounds, with James finishing his first campaign 58th in that category.

Assists per game: Doncic 5.6, James 5.9

Wade's suggestion the two are similar in the way they dish the ball around is backed up by the stats.

Doncic is 21st in the NBA for assists per game, ahead of All-Stars like Stephen Curry and Paul George, though James was 13th overall in 2003-04.

Field goal percentage: Doncic 43, James 41.7

James attempted three more shots on average in his maiden term but Doncic is proving more efficient.

The rise of three-point attempts is also reflected in the fact Doncic is making 2.4 per game from seven attempts, while James' rookie average was only 0.8 made from 2.7 attempted.

Double-doubles: Doncic 13, James 12

Despite playing 24 fewer games than James did, Doncic already has more double-doubles than his counterpart managed.

Triple-doubles: Doncic 3, James 0

James failed to register a triple-double in his first campaign in Cleveland. Doncic became the second-youngster player to achieve the feat in January and has gone on to do it twice more.

In fact, only six players have recorded more triple-doubles than Doncic in 2018-19 - one of whom is James.

Steve Stricker was confirmed as the new captain of the United States' Ryder Cup team on Wednesday, meaning the Wisconsin native will lead his country in his home state at Whistling Straits in 2020.

The appointment of Stricker follows Padraig Harrington being announced as Europe's captain for next year's event.

An emphatic 17.5-10.5 victory at Le Golf National in September 2018 saw Europe regain the trophy under Thomas Bjorn, as the likes of Francesco Molinari, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter played starring roles.

Yet while Europe have won six successive home Ryder Cups, their recent record on American soil has been mixed.

We take a look at the last five editions of the event in the USA.


2016 - Hazeltine

Result: United States 17 - 11 Europe

Europe had won three Ryder Cups in a row ahead of the 2016 event, but they were in for a shock at Hazeltine.

Darren Clarke's hopes of masterminding victory suffered a hammer blow on the first morning as the United States, captained by Davis Love III, pulled off a clean sweep of the Friday foursomes.

Rookies Thomas Pieters and Rafael Cabrera-Bello impressed as Europe narrowed their deficit, but the USA regained control in the second fourball session and went on to triumph by a six-point margin, the talismanic Patrick Reed defeating Rory McIlroy in a dramatic opening singles match to set the tone for the hosts.

2012 - Medinah

Result: United States 13.5 - 14.5 Europe

Is it really more than six years since the 'Miracle of Medinah'?

In the first Ryder Cup since the death of European icon Seve Ballesteros, the Spaniard's close friend Jose Maria Olazabal oversaw the most remarkable of comebacks to ensure Europe retained the trophy they had claimed at Celtic Manor two years earlier.

The USA were 10-4 up on Saturday afternoon, having won five of the day's first six contests.

However, Europe crucially won the last two fourball contests, with Poulter the architect of an astonishing turnaround in the anchor match.

Poulter and his team-mates then overhauled a four-point deficit in the singles, something that had only happened once before in Ryder Cup history, with Martin Kaymer sinking the winning putt to spark emotional scenes of celebration from the visiting team.

2008 - Valhalla

Result: United States 16.5 - 11.5 Europe

No European golfer in the professional era has claimed more major titles than Nick Faldo's six and the Englishman was also the most prolific points scorer in Ryder Cup history before Garcia moved past his tally of 25 at Le Golf National.

However, Faldo was nowhere near as successful in a miserable stint as Europe's captain, which yielded a heavy defeat to Paul Azinger's United States team at Valhalla.

The infamous 'sandwich-gate' incident - in which Faldo was photographed holding an apparent list of pairings only to then claim, somewhat unfeasibly, it was a list of lunch requests - was not the only gaffe made by the former world number one before the event had even begun.

Europe were then handsomely beaten when the action did get under way, trailing throughout on their way to a 16.5-11.5 loss.

Hunter Mahan was the leading points-scorer for the USA, who prevailed in seven of the 12 Sunday singles contests, but the likes of Anthony Kim, Boo Weekley, Justin Leonard and J.B. Holmes were among others to play starring roles.


2004 - Oakland Hills

Result: United States 9.5 - 18.5 Europe

In contrast to Faldo, the meticulous Bernhard Langer did not put a foot wrong in 2004 as Europe stormed to victory by a record margin at Oakland Hills.

Every member of Langer's team contributed at least a point, with wildcard selections Colin Montgomerie and Luke Donald among those to excel in a stunningly one-sided match.

In contrast, a USA team led by Hal Sutton and featuring three of the world's top 10 failed to deliver, with Chris DiMarco the only player to score more than two points for the hosts.

Montgomerie, in his penultimate Ryder Cup appearance as a player, famously holed the winning putt and went on to say: "That singles win over David Toms, in fact that whole week, rejuvenated me and my career."


1999 - Brookline

Result: United States 14.5 - 13.5 Europe

Prior to Europe's fightback at Medinah in 2012, the only previous instance of a team coming from four points behind in the singles came at Brookline, in distinctly fractious circumstances.

Mark James was Europe's skipper for an event sadly overshadowed by boorish abuse of visiting players by a partisan crowd and raucous scenes on the 17th hole on Sunday.

A mammoth putt from Leonard prompted an invasion of the green from the US team, even though Olazabal still had a putt of his own to come.

Ben Crenshaw's USA ultimately triumphed 14.5-13.5, but the 'Battle of Brookline' would be remembered for the wrong reasons.

In a subsequent autobiography, Sam Torrance - a vice-captain for Europe that week - described the final day of the 1999 event as: "the most disgraceful and disgusting day in the history of professional golf."

Right now the 2019 Cricket World Cup is now the focus for most international sides but England and Australia know this is also an Ashes year.

Plenty can change between now and the first Test at Edgbaston, which starts on August 1, as demonstrated in recent months.

Not too long ago, England were riding high after securing a series sweep in Sri Lanka, while Australia had lost a series at home for the first time against India.

Since then, however, Joe Root's side slipped up against West Indies and Australia returned to winning ways on home soil, crushing the Sri Lankans.

So, before the 50-over game takes centre stage, we grasped the chance to assess the state of the two rival nations.


England began their busy winter without a clear idea over the identity of their top three in the order. Now, several months and six Tests later, they seem further away from finding a solution than when they left home. 

Keaton Jennings did make a century on Sri Lankan soil, but his problems against seam bowling were exposed once again in the Caribbean. Rory Burns fared better in the 2-1 series defeat, yet is still far from certain of his place in the Test XI. 

Joe Denly made his debut in Antigua, opening instead of the dropped Jennings, yet ended the West Indies series at number three and made 69 during the second innings in St Lucia.

It all leaves the top-order picture unclear. Candidates from outside the previous two touring parties know a stack of early runs in the County Championship will push them into contention That is easier said than done, though, considering the domestic schedule and pitches favouring seam early in the English summer.

At least the rest of the line-up is more settled. With Root locked in at four, England appear set to have Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, who briefly went up to three before resuming duties behind the stumps, in the middle order. That quartet can power the team to competitive totals, provided they get better protection from those above them.

Much like their opponents, the batting order undoubtedly remains the biggest question mark for Australia, even though the returns of Steve Smith and David Warner from suspension will provide a huge boost.

The series against India and Sri Lanka did little to ease doubts over the top order, with the former's seamers dominating. Opener Marcus Harris was Australia's leading run-scorer against India with 258 at 36.85 but, for plenty of positive signs, his inability to convert starts into big scores hurt the team.

Joe Burns' big ton against Sri Lanka may be enough to get him a spot, while Travis Head has locked down his. Usman Khawaja scored what may have been a place-saving century in Canberra, having looked out of touch throughout the Australian summer.


The Australian Men's Cricket team celebrate the end of a successful Domain Test Series against Sri Lanka, winning 2-0 to claim the Warne–Muralitharan

— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) February 4, 2019

Kurtis Patterson also reached three figures versus Sri Lanka and may grab the final spot in the top six, although the remainder of the Sheffield Shield season could be decisive.

Shaun Marsh has surely lost his Test place for a final time, but he has continually scored runs at domestic level - not that that has mattered for the Shield's leading run-scorer this season in Matthew Wade. Aaron Finch, meanwhile, endured a miserable campaign after being asked to open.

Even during the successful series over Sri Lanka, Australia found themselves in tough spots at 76-3, 28-3 and 37-3. But they have been playing without their two best batsmen in Warner and Smith, the latter's ability to steady an innings and make big scores a particular miss.

Their returns may not solve Australia's problems but will help, although English conditions will provide yet another huge test.


Let us start with Australia, who, barring injuries, appear far more settled in this area of their team.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are sidelined with pectoral and back injuries respectively, though their places are safe. Neither reached any great heights during the Australian summer, but Starc did find form against Sri Lanka, grabbing a 10-wicket Test haul in Canberra.

The pace attack was led by Pat Cummins instead, who was impressive and deserved greater rewards against India. Those duly arrived along with Sri Lanka as he took 14 wickets at 7.78. His 28 wickets were the most by an Australian across the six Tests. Such was his form, it was suggested Cummins should be taking the new ball.

In a further good sign on the pace front for Australia, Jhye Richardson replaced Hazlewood versus Sri Lanka and was handy. The 22-year-old took six wickets in the series.

Nathan Lyon enjoyed another strong summer and was, alongside Cummins, Australia's best bowler against India. The off-spinner finished that series with an equal-high 21 wickets – alongside the hugely impressive Jasprit Bumrah – to lift Australia as Starc and Hazlewood largely struggled.

Australia will need more from Starc and Hazlewood during the Ashes, and the latter will certainly enjoy the seaming conditions not often offered on flat wickets at home. But with Cummins also approaching his best, Australia have yet another pace option capable of causing England problems.

England, meanwhile, chopped and changed their attack in overseas conditions, but will likely revert to a more tried-and-tested battery of seamers on home turf.

Stuart Broad may not be a regular on the team's travels anymore, but he will undoubtedly play a leading role in the Ashes, alongside the evergreen James Anderson. 

Moeen Ali also is locked in as the frontline spinner – England are unlikely to pick two unless the conditions at any of the venues are certain to suit – and, while his form with the bat has dipped over the past year, the all-rounder has taken 177 Test wickets in 58 Test appearances. 

With Stokes - fitness permitting - certain to be in the team too, England appear to have one seamer spot up for grabs.

Mark Wood burst back onto the Test scene with a scintillating spell in St Lucia that the national selectors will struggle to forget. The Durham paceman’s injury record makes him far from a certainty to complete such a congested series, even if two fragile-looking batting units suggest there could be a few extra days of rest.

Sam Curran was England's new golden boy at the end of 2018 before his reputation lost a little shine on pitches that failed to suit in the Caribbean, while Olly Stone's tour was cut short by a back injury. Wood was his replacement and may well have skipped to the front of the queue with his five-wicket haul.


England are favourites to regain the urn on home soil, mainly due to the fact Australia have not won an Ashes away series since 2001.

The hosts prevailed 3-2 four years ago and a repeat result would not be a surprise, considering how both teams are strong in the bowling department. The tourists' hopes may rest on Smith and Warner quickly settling back in, but previous issues for the Aussies against the moving ball may once again come back to haunt them.

Like Swiss cheese, these teams have holes. However, their problems - plus being prone to batting collapses - should make for entertaining viewing.

The Champions League last 16 first legs conclude on Wednesday, with Atletico Madrid hosting Juventus and Manchester City travelling to Schalke.

Juve will be looking to Cristiano Ronaldo to find his European scoring boots as they bid to end Atletico Madrid's run of 12 Champions League knockout games at home without defeat.

Manchester City, meanwhile, are overwhelming favourites to see off Schalke and progress to the quarter-finals, but they will have to overcome a stubborn backline, which conceded just four goals in the group stages.

Here is the pick of the stats surrounding these two games, as provided by Opta...

Atletico Madrid v Juventus

1 - Cristiano Ronaldo has scored only one goal in his last eight Champions League games. He had found the net 11 times in his eight previous games.

6 - Antoine Griezmann has scored or assisted a goal in each of his six Champions League games at the Wanda Metropolitano (six goals, three assists). This season, he has been directly involved in six of Atletico Madrid's nine Champions League goals (67 per cent), with four goals and two assists – that is the highest ratio among the 16 teams left in the competition.

9 - Massimiliano Allegri has reached the knockout stages in each of his nine campaigns as manager in the Champions League. He was a beaten finalist in two of the last four seasons with Juventus.

6 - Atletico Madrid are unbeaten in the Champions League against Italian opposition under manager Diego Simeone (won four, drawn two). In those six games, they have only conceded one goal, by Kaka in a 4-1 win against AC Milan in March 2014.

6 - Paulo Dybala has scored six goals in his last seven Champions League appearances – more than in his previous 24 appearances in the competition with Juventus (five goals). All 11 of his goals in the competition have come with his left foot.

Schalke v Manchester City

9 - Schalke are unbeaten in their last nine European home games (won six, drawn three) – they last went longer without a home defeat between July 2003 and November 2004 (11 games).

4 - No player delivered more assists than Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez in the Champions League group stages this season (four, level with Kylian Mbappe and Memphis Depay).

6 - Schalke scored six goals in this season's group stages, the lowest tally amongst the 16 clubs left in the competition. However, only Borussia Dortmund (five) kept more clean sheets than Schalke (four).

2 - Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has won the Champions League on two occasions as a manager (2009 and 2011, both with Barcelona); a third trophy would equal Zinedine Zidane, Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley's record. He has also reached the semi-finals in seven of his nine previous seasons as manager but has not made the final since 2011.

3 - Schalke have been knocked out in the round of 16 in each of their last three Champions League appearances – 2010/11 was the last time they made it past that stage, reaching the semi-finals.

Robert Lewandowski drew a rare blank as he failed to exploit Virgil van Dijk being suspended, but Bayern Munich arguably have the edge over Liverpool after a goalless first leg at Anfield.

Van Dijk's absence was billed as a crucial factor in Tuesday's clash of the titans - a last-16 tie that felt deserving of semi-final status if not the showpiece itself - with two high-powered sides who wanted to play the game at full speed without ever pausing to catch breath.

Liverpool mostly held Bayern at bay despite being without the most expensive defender in world football. Lewandowski - the top scorer in this season's Champions League with eight goals - lurked as a malevolent presence close to Van Dijk's deputy Fabinho whenever Bayern had the ball, but they could not create a chance for him to take.

Indeed, the Bundesliga champions did not muster a single shot on target, although the hosts could only manage two themselves. Lewandowski touched the ball just twice in Liverpool's box during the first half and when he did get on the ball near Alisson's goal shortly after the restart, Fabinho snuffed out his threat.

Alisson promised pre-match Liverpool would not "feel that loss" with Van Dijk unable to play due to his ban, claiming Liverpool were drilled so well it would make little difference despite his price and profile, and he was proved right with Lewandowski stifled.

Van Dijk has not missed a single minute of Liverpool's brilliant Premier League season, but suggestions he has been the sole factor in the Reds' rise looked out of place following this fine team display. Fabinho and Joel Matip may be a makeshift pairing, but they were not outclassed. Mats Hummels was similarly outstanding at the back for Bayern.

The key individual battle of the game instead developed on Liverpool's left wing where Sadio Mane gave the excellent Joshua Kimmich a working over, the likes of which he does not usually get in domestic football.

Mane tricked Kimmich into receiving a first-half booking, which will rule the Germany international out of the second leg, but he could not find the target with a brace of overhead-kick attempts before the break. Liverpool may feel Mane could have targeted Kimmich more in the second period as his yellow seemed a rare soft spot in the Bayern side.

With both sides determined to close down the other at every possible opportunity, Manuel Neuer and Alisson had moments where they looked briefly uncomfortable.

The prospect of Roberto Firmino bearing down on goal, seemingly at a million miles an hour, was not welcomed by Bayern's captain. It was hard to believe Firmino had been a doubt due to an illness that forced him to miss training. His energy levels appeared to be as high as ever until he dramatically faded in the second half and had to be replaced by wildcard option Divock Origi.

Mistakes in possession were too common from both sides, the rapid tempo of the match meaning players were regularly harried and harassed into misplacing passes.

And that lack of clarity continued in front of goal where the prolific Mohamed Salah wasted the clearest openings of the game for Liverpool. They may just rue his misses in Munich.

Tuesday marks 100 days until the Cricket World Cup gets under way when hosts England face South Africa at the Oval.

Starting with that opening clash on May 30, the world's 10 best ODI sides will battle it out over a round-robin phase, from which the strongest four teams will progress to the semi-finals prior to the decider at Lord's on July 14.

Of the nations involved, only half have tasted glory in the ICC's 50-over showpiece, while four of the last five tournaments have been won by Australia.

But the defending champions will not start as favourites this time around - that questionable honour will instead be bestowed on the home side - while Australia will have to cope with the distractions involved in welcoming back two of their best players from ball-tampering suspensions.

How will the holders cope? That question is one of the five major unknowns ahead of the action kicking off in 100 days' time...


Baggy Greens to struggle with Smith-Warner baggage?

Australian cricket was rocked last year when captain Steve Smith, his right-hand man David Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft were all banned for their part in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal. Smith and Warner's suspensions are due to expire in March, two months before their first World Cup warm-up fixture against England at the Rose Bowl. As two of the world's finest players, it seems inconceivable that Australia would not select the pair, who will expect a hostile reception from the home crowd but have been around long enough to be able to block out any abuse from the stands. But will the predictable media brouhaha and constant questions surrounding their return become too great a hindrance?

Which Pakistan will turn up?

A global 50-over tournament in England should hold fond memories for Pakistan, who overcame fierce rivals India in the Champions Trophy final at the Oval two years ago. That 180-run hammering came just a fortnight after India had inflicted a 124-run thrashing during the group phase. And that, in a nutshell, is the Pakistan cricket team. They veer from the sublime to the ridiculous on a regular basis, proving consistently capable of looking unbeatable one day to utterly incompetent the next. The likes of Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali can be devastating with the ball while Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam are explosive at the top of the order, but bet on Pakistan at your peril. They could go all the way. They could crash out in a series of batting collapses in the round-robin stage. The one guarantee is that it will not be dull.

Will the Universe Boss bow out in a blaze of glory?

At the age of 39, Chris Gayle will take part in his fifth and final World Cup after announcing he will retire from ODIs once the tournament is over. The scorer of the first double-century in World Cup history - smashing 16 sixes in making 215 off 147 balls against Zimbabwe four years ago - the self-styled 'Universe Boss' has spent much of the latter part of his career travelling the globe playing Twenty20 cricket for a number of high-paying franchises. As such, his involvement for the Windies has dwindled, but Gayle still manages to talk the talk - declaring himself "the greatest player in the world" recently. So, as he nears his 40th birthday, can Gayle walk the walk on his World Cup swansong?

Is Dhoni still the ultimate finisher?

If India are to reach the final, it will fall a week after MS Dhoni's 38th birthday. A veteran of well over 300 ODIs dating back to his debut in 2004, the wicketkeeper-batsman has proved himself to be the coolest of customers when the run chase reaches the wire. His unbeaten 91 from 79 balls delivered his country's second title in 2011 and despite moving up and down the order with regularity, he still somehow averages more than 50 with the bat. India fans have a new superstar to worship in the form of captain Virat Kohli, but Dhoni still remains an idol to millions in that part of the world. In recent times Kohli has proven the master of the chase but, in what is sure to be his final World Cup, can Dhoni have the last word, as he has so many times before?

Can England cope with the favourites' tag?

It is an unusual scenario for England, whose ODI fortunes dropped to an all-time low at the last World Cup, where defeats to Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh saw Eoin Morgan's side dumped out in the groups. That elimination proved a watershed moment, however, and in the intervening four years Morgan's men have transformed themselves into the ICC's top-ranked side, playing a brand of cricket that prioritises aggressive, attacking play over a ponderous, patient approach. Their startling evolution is best summed up by a pair of stunning innings at Trent Bridge in the past two and a half years - setting a new ODI record 444-3 against Pakistan in 2016 before smashing that mark with 481-6 against Australia in 2018. Familiar conditions should play into their hands, but will the hosts make light of the weight of expectation? We only have to wait 100 days to find out.

The Champions League last 16 continues on Tuesday, with Liverpool hosting Bayern Munich and Barcelona travelling to Lyon.

Bayern have a fairly rotten record against the Reds, but they may stand a good chance of a positive first-leg result if Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mane continue their recent trends in the competition.

Lyon shocked Manchester City in the group stage before a peculiar run of five consecutive draws, but they will hope to stop Lionel Messi from continuing a quite remarkable scoring rate.

Here is the pick of the stats surrounding these two first legs, as provided by Opta...

Liverpool v Bayern Munich

1 - Bayern Munich have won only one of their seven matches in European competition against Liverpool (D4 L2). That came in the Cup Winners' Cup second round back in November 1971, with two goals from Gerd Muller and one from Uli Hoeness in Munich.

0 - Bayern Munich have not scored a single goal against Liverpool at Anfield (3 games).

19 - Liverpool are unbeaten in 19 consecutive European matches at Anfield (W14 D5), last losing at home back in October 2014 against Real Madrid in the Champions League (0-3). It is their second-longest unbeaten streak at home in European competition after their 40-match run between September 1974 and December 1991.

6 - Sadio Mane failed to convert more big chances than any other player in this season's Champions League group stages (6 out of 7 obtained). However, last season he scored seven goals in as many knockout games in the competition.

5 - Top scorer in the Champions League this season with eight goals, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski will attempt to find the net in a fifth consecutive game, a feat he has never accomplished so far in a same season in the competition.

Lyon v Barcelona

6 - Barcelona are unbeaten against Lyon, winning four of their six previous matches with the French club, all in the Champions League. The Catalans have also scored in all six of those games.

44 - Lyon have averaged 44 per cent possession in this season's Champions League, the lowest ratio among the 16 teams left in the competition, whilst only Real Madrid have had more possession (65 per cent) than Barcelona (64 per cent).

4 - Lyon's Memphis Depay has assisted four goals in the Champions League this season, the joint-most alongside Kylian Mbappe and Riyad Mahrez. The last Lyon player to assist four or more goals in the competition was Juninho Pernambucano in 2008-09 (4).

90 - Since (and including) the 2009 Champions League final, Barcelona's Lionel Messi has scored 90 goals in 90 starts in the competition.

1,418 - Barcelona striker Luis Suarez has failed to score (or deliver an assist) in his last 1,418 minutes of play away from home in the Champions League - 23 hours and 38 minutes without finding the net or setting up a goal. The last time he scored on the road came in September 2015 against Roma at Stadio Olimpico.

Manchester City winger Leroy Sane will head back to the club and the competition where it all began for him this week.

Reunions have been a theme of the Champions League last-16, with Angel Di Maria having the last laugh when he helped Paris Saint-Germain to a 2-0 win at Manchester United after being barracked by the Old Trafford faithful.

There is likely to be a far different feel when Sane returns to the Veltins Arena for the first leg of City's meeting with Schalke, the Bundesliga team he left to move to the Premier League for an initial £37million in August 2016.

"The fans at Schalke are amazing and he didn't do anything wrong. They're proud that a big player like Leroy is one of their own," former Switzerland international Tranquillo Barnetta, who played alongside Sane in Gelsenkirchen, told Omnisport.

"They see it like this, so that's why I think it will be a good welcome."

Barnetta made his own return to Schalke for the 2014-15 campaign, following a season-long loan and Eintracht Frankfurt, as a gifted young attacker made an instant impression upon graduating to the first-team squad.

"You already saw his talent in the beginning in practice," he said of the then-18-year-old Sane. "It was impressive how he did everything.

"In the beginning, usually young players need some time but he was already there and present on the pitch, trying his things.

"He needed a couple more games to really make the breakthrough but, of course, with his speed and his talent I already saw that this was a special kid."

Roberto Di Matteo replaced Jens Keller as head coach in the October and Sane made his second Bundesliga appearance the following month, coming on for the last 10 minutes of a 4-1 win over Mainz.

He ended the campaign with three goals from 13 top-flight games, seven of which came as a starter. But Sane truly announced himself as an exceptional talent in an unforgettable Champions League last-16 encounter at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"We lost the first game against Real Madrid 2-0, so we had nothing to lose," Barnetta, now starring once again for hometown club St Gallen, recalled. "We thought maybe, if we can score, there is a little, little chance."

They did just that – Christian Fuchs and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar establishing first-half leads that were cancelled out on each occasion by Cristiano Ronaldo.

An injury to Eric Maxim Choupo Moting saw Sane introduced for a Champions League debut before the half hour and, after Karim Benzema put Madrid ahead on the night, the teenager took centre stage.

Collecting a pass from Fuchs on the right-hand corner of the penalty area, Sane shifted inside and curled a vicious shot beyond Iker Casillas – becoming the youngest player to score against Madrid in the competition in the process.

Sane proved a menace for an increasingly petrified Madrid backline and a driving run through midfield – that trademark shift in direction that somehow appears at once jolting and smooth was already in evidence – helped to create Huntelaar's second, making it 4-3 to Schalke and ensuring a grandstand finish.

"I'm not sure everyone recognised how close it was. In the last minutes we had a chance with [Benedikt] Howedes. If he scored this header we would have gone through and it would have been amazing," Barnetta recalled, having been wowed by his youthful team-mate.

"He was not afraid of Real Madrid or the Bernabeu and the fans. He just came on the pitch and did his thing.

"I always say that there is a little bit of luck in a career. Maybe his luck was that he could score in this game.

"Everybody was watching this game and if you score against Madrid everybody is talking about you. If you score an amazing goal like Leroy did, all the clubs are asking, 'Who is this guy?'."

There have been bumps in the road since, most notably Sane's surprise omission from Germany's shambolic World Cup defence in Russia.

But season-on-season improvement is in evidence under Pep Guardiola and, with talks over a new contract on-going, Barnetta feels the sky is the limit.

"It's a hard question, how good he can be," he added, as Sane enters the Schalke game with 12 goals and 13 assists to his name this term in all competitions.

"But if he is continuing like this, to get even stronger and trying to score more goals than he already did, he can be so important for a team.

"He can make the difference, even if a team is not playing well, and that is what every team is looking for.

"I don't know how much you have to improve if you are already playing for one of the best teams.

"I just hope for him he is continuing like this and, if he spends the rest of his life at Man City, it will be a great career."

Cristiano Ronaldo will get reacquainted with Atletico Madrid on Wednesday for the first time since leaving their bitter rivals Real Madrid for Juventus, having boasted a fine record in derby clashes.

Atletico host Juve in the first leg of the Champions League's round of 16 and they are braced to face a familiar foe in the Portugal great.

Ronaldo was a regular rival of Atletico's after moving to LaLiga from Manchester United in 2009, and he went on to consistently be a nuisance.

He was on the winning side in his first eight Madrid derbies, before Atletico began to enjoy something of a resurgence and assert themselves in both LaLiga and the Champions League.

However, Madrid still generally got the better of them when it mattered and Ronaldo often played a significant role.

His form has shown no sign of letting up since moving to Serie A, scoring 19 goals in 24 appearances, and he will no doubt be expecting to continue his fine record against Atletico in their upcoming clashes.

Using Opta data, Omnisport takes a closer look at the five-time Ballon d'Or-winner's history against these opponents.


22  Ronaldo's overall haul of 22 goals against Atletico during his time in Spain makes him the Madrid derby's all-time top scorer. Only against Sevilla (27) and Getafe (23) has he scored more often.

10 –  Ten of those 22 goals were scored away from home. Only on trips to Sevilla and Barcelona (12) has Ronaldo been more prolific in front of goal.

8 – Ronaldo has taken more penalties against Atletico than any other side, and he has scored every single one of them.

3 – The 34-year-old has three hat-tricks against Atletico, with his most recent coming in May 2017's Champions League semi-final at the Santiago Bernabeu.

18  – No player has netted more often against Atleti during Diego Simeone's celebrated tenure than Ronaldo, whose 18 goals have come across 25 derbies.

5 –  Ronaldo has also chipped in with five assists to further punish Atletico from 10 clear chances created. He had better assist hauls against only Malaga, Espnayol (nine apiece), Levante (eight) and Athletic Bilbao (seven) in Spanish football.

19 – Only three of Ronaldo's 22 goals against Atletico were not with his right foot. All of the remaining trio were headers.

6 – Ronaldo has faced Atletico six times in the Champions League. His solitary defeat in those games (2-1 on May 10, 2017) had no bearing on the end result, as Madrid had won the first leg 3-0 thanks to his hat-trick.

Forty-seven passes, four chances created and one shot in 56 minutes does not sound too bad for your average midfielder, but James Rodriguez should not be average.

The Colombia international played a bit part in Bayern Munich's 3-2 win at Augsburg on Friday before being replaced by Thomas Muller. Given the latter's suspension, James will likely keep his place in the starting line-up against Liverpool in Tuesday's Champions League showdown.

That game could be a pivotal one in both Bayern's season and the career of James. The World Cup Golden Boot and FIFA Puskas Award winner of 2014, as well as the fourth most expensive signing in Real Madrid's history, is in a rut.

Where has it gone wrong?


As part of the loan deal with Madrid struck two years ago, Bayern have the option to sign James for a reported €42m, nearly half the fee the European champions paid Monaco in 2014. He is still valued by members of the club's hierarchy, such as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. He has spoken fondly of life in Germany.

He has managed just one league assist this season, but only three Bayern players have created more chances than his 29 - not bad for a player limited to eight starts due to injury.

The problem seems to be Niko Kovac.

After getting over a back issue, James was a big success in his first season under Carlo Ancelotti and then Jupp Heynckes, scoring seven goals and assisting another 11 in 23 Bundesliga appearances. He described Heynckes as "a very experienced coach who exudes calm and poise"; that he could speak Spanish made life even easier.

Under Kovac, things have been more difficult. A troubled run of results at the start of the season - including a four-game winless run - led president Uli Hoeness and chairman Rummenigge to round on the media for sensationalising the club's 'crisis'. They would have to admit, though, that James and Kovac at least do not seem to be clicking.

The player does not seem to fit with his coach's methods, either as a central midfielder or in the front three. The pair reportedly argued in December, although James insisted publicly: "There are no issues with the coach or any staff. I am happy here, I am calm and in the future, we will see what happens."

This was always likely to be a more difficult season for Bayern. Incorporating youngsters like Alphonso Davies, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka shows they recognise the need to overhaul an ageing squad, even if they dragged their feet over the problem for too long. Kovac's daunting task is to shape this developing side and drain the old blood, all while sustaining a treble challenge. For that, he needs players in tune with his ideas, or at least prepared to run through walls for him. James looks to be neither.


James' predicament is indicative of a trend among attacking playmakers.

Across Europe's elite, players blessed with creative qualities are being marginalised if they are not tactically flexible, too. Jose Mourinho was apparently a trailblazer when he dispensed of Juan Mata to accommodate Oscar at Chelsea in 2013-14.

At Arsenal, Unai Emery has kept top-earner Mesut Ozil on the fringes. At Real Madrid, Isco is fighting a losing battle for a place in Santiago Solari's plans. Mata, now at Manchester United, is predominantly a back-up winger. Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho is failing to convince in a flat midfield at Barcelona and Paulo Dybala's future at Juventus is unclear.

Of the teams who could afford James and his wages, few look likely to bother if Bayern pass on their option. Liverpool occasionally drop Roberto Firmino into a deeper role, but it seems unlikely they would spend a fortune on a possible reserve. Manchester City and Barca do not need him; neither do Juve, who are said to want Mohamed Salah if Dybala goes. United and Chelsea seem possibilities but, again, they are not set up to embrace James' best qualities. Even if Arsenal were, they do not have the funds to make it happen.

What of Paris Saint-Germain? Thomas Tuchel does use a 4-2-3-1 at times and would have both money to spend and a creative void to fill if Neymar heads back to Spain, as has been persistently suggested. Even so, there are plenty of 'ifs' and 'buts' here - too many on which to base a decisive career move.

As unbelievable as it would have sounded just two or three years ago, James' elite-level days are in limbo. A star turn against Liverpool might be needed if that is to change.

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.

MotoGP icon Valentino Rossi celebrates his 40th birthday on Saturday.

Nine-time world champion Rossi will begin his 24th season in motorcycle racing in Qatar next month and will comfortably be the oldest man on the grid.

The Movistar Yamaha rider has a contract that will keep him racing until the end of the 2020 campaign, but he has already achieved legendary status in motorsport.

To celebrate Rossi's big day, we look at some of the best statistics from his illustrious career.

2 - Only Giacomo Agostini (15) and Angel Nieto (13) have won more world titles across all levels than Rossi (9 - level with Mike Hailwood and Carlo Ubbiali).

115 - Rossi is just seven race wins away from joining Agostini (122) at the top of the all-time list for grand prix victories across all competitions.

73 - Rossi has already surpassed Agostini in terms of career podiums, with his tally of 232 far outstripping his closest rival and fellow Italian's haul of 159.

84 per cent - Of Rossi's 232 podiums, 196 have come in the top two levels (MotoGP and 500cc).

3 - The only seasons Rossi has failed to win a single grand prix in are 2011, 2012 and 2018.

20 - A total of 20 years, 10 months and seven days separate Rossi's first win at any level (the 1996 Czech Republic Grand Prix) and his latest (the 2017 Dutch TT). No rider has a greater gap between their maiden and last triumphs.

23 - Rossi is the rider with the most consecutive podium finishes in the top category, having finished in the top three from the 2002 Portuguese Grand Prix to the 2004 South African Grand Prix.

10 - Barcelona-Catalunya and the TT Circuit Assen are Rossi's most successful tracks. He has claimed one more win at both than at his home race in Mugello (9).

7 - Rossi's win at the 2017 Dutch TT made him the seventh-oldest rider (38 years, 129 days) in history to win a grand prix in the main championship.

Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and others were able to meet Alex Ferguson's standards at Manchester United because of iconic youth coach Eric Harrison, according to their fellow 'Class of '92' graduate Chris Casper.

Harrison passed away on Wednesday at the age of 81 and the world of football was swift to pay tribute to the man who helped forge one of the greatest dynasties the sport has seen in Britain.

As well as Giggs, Scholes and Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt all came through United's academy in the early 1990s, going on to play a huge role in one of the most fruitful periods in the club's history.

Giggs – the most decorated British player ever – went on to overtake Bobby Charlton as United's record appearance maker, while Scholes is third in that list and Gary Neville captained them for six years.

All six players were nurtured by the guiding hand of Harrison, and Casper – who started alongside Giggs, Gary Neville and Butt in the 1991-92 FA Youth Cup final – thinks the coach's similarity to Ferguson was vital.

"They were very similar, with the values and standards," Casper told Omnisport. "I think the work ethic they demonstrated every day, the standard they set, the expectations the manager [Ferguson] set – it came from Eric, really.

"Eric was the first person to work with you when you got into the training ground as a 16-year-old, sometimes even before that when you were 14 or 15.

"He set the tone really, but there was nothing different about the way Eric was and the way the manager was. It was just that progression. They were similar in many ways.

"It was obviously driven by the manager, he picked you for the first team, but it was started by Eric. He gave you the confidence to believe in yourself.

"He was our mentor, teacher, leader. He helped shape us not just as footballers, but people as well.

"I think a lot of it is values, the way you behave, portray yourself, the way you act, also having clear messages - Eric wasn't one for mincing his words, and you really appreciated that from him."

Many of the revered 'Class of '92' have since followed Harrison into coaching, with Giggs managing Wales, Phil Neville in charge of the England women's team and Butt heading up United's academy.

Scholes is the latest to take up a full-time position after being appointed the manager of League Two's Oldham Athletic on Monday, and Casper – now sporting director of Salford City, the club part-owned by Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Butt and the Nevilles – thinks they will all aspire to manage United one day.

"He [Scholes] had such a long career, you always hoped he'd go into that side of things and use his experience and knowledge," Casper added.

"I don't think Paul will change [his personality] in the dressing room. I think he'll set the standard, a very high standard.

"It's good that Paul, Ryan, Nicky and Phil are getting the opportunities to put something back into the game, helping people, using their experience and shaping their football clubs, squads and teams.

"Man United is the biggest, or one of the biggest, jobs in world football. I'd imagine they'd all have aspirations to manage the club one day.

"It'd be good to have that continuity and have that experience of what it actually takes to be at Man United and be part of something that'd be great moving forward.

"They're all getting experience, hopefully they'll get the opportunity to manage it [make the jump up to United's level]."

Newport County FA Cup hero Padraig Amond will enjoy an unlikely reunion when Premier League champions Manchester City visit Rodney Parade in a David-versus-Goliath last-16 clash on Saturday.

Amond's sweetly struck goal against Middlesbrough to help set up the money-spinning tie followed a coolly dispatched penalty as County saw off Leicester City in round three.

The 30-year-old Irish forward has 18 goals in all competitions this season – making him Newport's main threat as they chase an upset he feels would rank as "the biggest shock in the history of the FA Cup".

Amond's route to south Wales comes after stints in England's lower divisions with the likes of Accrington Stanley and Hartlepool United but is far from typical.

Following his breakthrough as a youngster with Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland, he was poached by Pacos de Ferreira and spent 2010-11 in the Portuguese Primeira Liga.

At the same time, City's Argentinian centre-back Nicolas Otamendi was making his first steps in European football with Porto and was an unused substitute when Amond – on his final Pacos appearance – laid on a hat-trick sealing equaliser for Pizzi in a 3-3 draw at Estadio Do Dragao.

Earlier in the season, Otamendi scored in a 3-0 Porto win as Amond was introduced from the bench in vain.

"I'm going to have to try and repay the favour this time around," Amond told Omnisport, although he is under no illusions that he made any impression upon his likely Saturday opponent.

"Obviously he's been a really good defender, he's won a lot of trophies. I highly doubt Otamendi will remember playing against me, but I remember playing against him."

Those memories and experiences underpin an enduring ambition within Amond that will be called upon when Pep Guardiola's men return to action for the first time since demolishing Chelsea 6-0 last weekend.

"At the time you take it for granted, but now, when you look back… when I go into the bigger games now, it doesn't actually affect me," he explained.

"Sometimes you're questioning whether you should be on the same field as them but now you realise, 'why shouldn't I be?'.

"I've worked really hard in my career, grafted really hard every day. I think I've still been a bit unlucky with regards to playing at a higher level. I've scored goals wherever I've been and, for one reason or another, it's not happened.

"I'm not giving up hope of playing at whatever the highest level possible is. I think I'm good enough to do it."

However, Amond knows there is a clear line between belief and bombastic predictions, as Sergio Aguero and others approach the match in rampant mood.

"I'm not going to be silly and say we're going to win and then have egg on my face if it turns out to be a disaster of a game," he said.

"You look at Aguero and he's one of the best players to play in the Premier League. His goals record is unbelievable, his movement is unbelievable.

"As a striker, you're kind of hoping that it can all be about one of us - that one of us gets the opportunity that might be the biggest goal in the history of the FA Cup and the one that causes a massive upset."

Amond's recent turns as an FA Cup star - he was also on target when Newport took Tottenham to a replay last season – have seen glasses raised in his native Carlow.

Edward Cahill, the manager of Tully's Bar and an old school friend of Amond's, has offered a free drink to all punters each time he has scored in a televised FA Cup game.

"His family have been fantastic supporters of sports in Carlow," Amond said, explaining Sean O'Brien's exploits for the Ireland rugby team have received similar backing.

"They did it last year for the Spurs game. There were a few people in the bar and it said 'when' I score, not 'if' I scored – they fully believed I was going to score – there would be a free drink for everybody."

A busload of Tully's regulars will make a near 800 kilometre trip to Rodney Parade this weekend, but the offer still stands for those staying behind.

"It'll be the same wording – when, not if," Amond added. "They have a lot of confidence in me, so hopefully I can back up their confidence."

Barcelona surprised few by announcing a contract extension for coach Ernesto Valverde on Friday, a just reward for a strong start to life at Camp Nou.

Valverde, 55, is in his second season at the helm in Catalonia having joined from Athletic Bilbao, and he has been an instant success.

Barca won LaLiga and the Copa del Rey in Valverde's first campaign, while they look on course to at least repeat that double this season, sitting six points clear at the summit with a Copa semi-final second leg at Real Madrid to look forward to.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said earlier in the week that he had no doubts about Valverde and was adamant he was to remain in charge next term – a sentiment confirmed by Friday's announcement, as the coach signed a one-year extension with the option of a further season.

Valverde is not the visionary many feel Pep Guardiola is, nor was his team convincing in the Champions League last year, but Barca's faith is surely well-placed for several reasons.


Happy Messi, happy Barca

One thing no one can doubt about Valverde's time at Barca has been his use of talisman Lionel Messi. The Argentine scored 34 goals in 36 LaLiga games last term, while he has 21 in 21 appearances this season. The coach has got the very best from his star man, making him the centre of everything they do. System-wise, the team is perhaps more rigid and calculated under Valverde than it had been for a while – but Messi retains freedom and that has produced fine results.


Thriving despite muddled transfer business

Valverde has had to contend with a complete lack of organisation and direction from those in charge of the club's recruitment, and he was dealt a devastating blow in losing Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain soon after joining Barca. The head coach was reportedly unhappy with the departure of former sporting director Robert Fernandez, while the signing of Malcom is said to have been done without his consultation. On top of that, Paulinho's sale apparently frustrated him and a host of other arrivals have made little impact as yet - namely Philippe Coutinho, Nelson Semedo, Jeison Murillo, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Arturo Vidal. Still Valverde thrives, however.


Stability in a chaotic world

No one is going to claim Valverde is in a class of his own, a coach who will revolutionise the modern game. He is not a Johan Cruyff, or a Guardiola, and his teams do not play swashbuckling, all-out attacking football that has the masses watching in astonishment. However, the Champions League aside, his system has unequivocally worked at Barca, bringing two major trophies and there is every chance he will add to that tally this season. It would be all too easy to ditch him for a shiny new toy, much like Madrid with Julen Lopetegui earlier in the campaign, but stability in the cut-throat environment of modern football can only be a good thing in this situation.

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