With most of the world still operating under lockdown conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic, most professional sport is on hold for the foreseeable future.

Given the outbreak occurred at a particularly inopportune moment for top-level football in Europe, the situation has bred uncertainty across most leagues – including Spain's LaLiga.

Competitions in Europe are facing the question of whether finishing the season, regardless of the impact it may have on future campaigns, should be the priority once normality returns.

The current focus does appear to be on concluding the 2019-20 campaign. However, even with Euro 2020 pushed back by 12 months, clubs and leagues are still having to work to tight schedules, with UEFA hoping seasons finish by the end of June.

While the discussion over how to complete the schedule continues, the Stats Perform AI team have crunched the numbers behind the scenes.

With all of the division's teams having completed 27 of 38 matches, their goal was to simulate how the rest of the season would pan out if the games were played now to produce a predicted 2019-20 table.

The statistical model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

BARCELONA CROWNED CHAMPIONS WITH 83 POINTS

The results in the statistical model see Barcelona crowned champions with a final total of just 83 points.

With 11 games to play, they presently lead rivals Real Madrid by two points, a gap that is predicted to have increased to four by the conclusion of the campaign, giving Quique Setien a first league crown.

Such have been the struggles of the big two this season, the final tally would be the lowest points recorded by a team to win the LaLiga since Fabio Capello's Madrid.

That team defeated Barca by virtue of their superior head-to-head record in a dramatic finish to the 2006-07 campaign, when the two sides accumulated 76 points.

It also suggests the chasing pack missed a rare opportunity to strike on a down year for both Clasico rivals, which will frustrate 2014 champions Atletico Madrid, who spent big on Joao Felix.

REAL MADRID FALL FOUR POINTS SHORT

The likelihood of Barca winning the title is 70.1%, with Real Madrid's chances rated at 29.9%. No other team is in with a chance of topping the table, according to the model.

But Zinedine Zidane's men are unlikely to face a challenge for second place, meaning they at least improve on their third-place finish from the 2018-19 season.

That third spot is poised to be grabbed by Atletico, who have a projected final points total of 65 and a 41.6% chance of claiming the position.

Atletico's closest challengers for third are predicted to be Sevilla (who are given a 26.1% chance) and Getafe (16.8%), with just two points separating those three sides in the final reckoning.

Diego Simeone would be thrilled with third place given his side went into the coronavirus-enforced break down in sixth, with Real Sociedad (9.1%) and Valencia (5%) the other teams in the mix.

UCL HEARTBREAK FOR LA REAL & GETAFE AS SEVILLA CLINCH 4TH

Sociedad and Getafe go into the break dreaming of a Champions League place amid fine seasons, but they are the two teams who will be worst affected by Atletico's predicted surge.

As part of a thrilling finish in the race for the top four, they are set to suffer heartbreak as Atletico pass them and they fall agonisingly short of catching Sevilla, who went into the halt in action sitting third.

Sevilla are anticipated to finish with 64 points, just one behind Atletico and one ahead of Getafe. 

Sociedad are then a further two behind Getafe with 61 as they are forced to settle for sixth, with Valencia staying in seventh on 59.

The four teams scheduled to finish between fourth and seventh all have a greater than 10.7% chance of finishing fourth, with none greater than Sevilla's 28.5%, so one bounce of the ball in a key game could still make an enormous difference.

Villarreal are predicted to finish in their current position of eighth, though they are given a 1.3% probability of breaking the top four.

Athletic Bilbao pass Granada for ninth position as Real Betis and Levante narrowly miss out on a spot in the top half.

Osasuna drop from 11th to 13th, where they are predicted to finish one point above Deportivo Alaves.

ESPANYOL SUFFER THE DROP AFTER 26 YEARS IN TOP FLIGHT

Mallorca, Leganes and Espanyol are the current bottom three in LaLiga and all are forecast to suffer relegation.

Espanyol have been in the top flight since 1994 but they go into the break six points adrift of safety and the model predicts they will be unable to make a great escape.

They are forecasted to collect 13 points from their last 11 games, but that is not even enough to get them off the bottom of the standings, highlighting the scale of the task they have ahead of them.

Similarly, Mallorca (36 points) and Leganes (35) are not expected to pick up enough victories to secure survival.

That means Celta Vigo, presently just one point clear of the drop zone, are predicted to survive with a final tally of 40, giving them a four-point cushion.

Celta are credited with 14 points between now and the end of the season to finish just behind Eibar (15th) and Real Valladolid (16th).

That means they would avoid a return to the Segunda Division, which is where they started the last decade.

Much of the world has been forced to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, with most professional sport consequently on hold for the foreseeable future.

With the outbreak occurring at a particularly inopportune moment for top-level football in Europe, the situation has bred uncertainty across most leagues – including Italy's Serie A.

Once normality returns, should finishing the season be the priority, regardless of the impact it might have on future campaigns?

At the moment, concluding the 2019-20 campaign appears the most likely option. However, even with Euro 2020 pushed back by 12 months, clubs and leagues are still having to work to tight schedules, with UEFA requesting seasons finish by the end of June.

Other views have been aired, with Italian Footballers' Association (AIC) president Damiano Tommasi suggesting the 2019-20 season could already be over, but while the debate rages on during the hiatus, the Stats Perform AI team have crunched the numbers behind the scenes.

With all 20 teams having either 12 or 13 league matches still to play, their goal was to simulate how the rest of the season would pan out if the games were played now to produce a predicted 2019-20 table.

 

The statistical model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

 

JUVENTUS ARE CHAMPIONS... AGAIN

The results in our model see Juventus retain the Scudetto, accumulating 87 points.

Undoubtedly the story of the season in Italy has been the rise of Lazio, who have mounted a genuine title challenge and went into the forced hiatus just one point adrift of the summit.

With Ciro Immobile's goals and Luis Alberto's creativity in midfield, Simone Inzaghi's men have excelled and delighted neutrals with their entertaining football.

But, in our model, Juventus see them off in the title race, with Maurizio Sarri picking up where Massimiliano Allegri left off last term and guiding them to a ninth successive Serie A title.

However, their points haul is their worst since getting the same amount in 2014-15.

INTER SETTLE FOR THIRD

For much of the first half of the season, Inter looked destined to push Juve all the way in the title race.

Under Antonio Conte and with Romelu Lukaku leading the attack following his move from Manchester United, Inter appeared invigorated.

But their form since the turn of the year has dipped, leaving them nine points off the top when the season was put on hold, though they had a game in hand.

In the simulation they did not recover to overtake either of the top two, finishing third on 79 points. 

Nevertheless, this would still represent an improvement on last season, when they only amassed 69 points and finished fourth.

 

MILAN SCRAPE EUROPA LEAGUE PLACE

It has been a difficult few years for Milan, and this season has not been much better.

Stefano Pioli's appointment as coach late last year has seen them improve somewhat, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic's arrival also giving the team a boost.

But there remains a lot to fix with the Rossoneri, with the squad lacking in quality and the hierarchy at odds with each other.

The simulation has Milan finishing seventh and that would be enough to scrape a Europa League spot, as the other three teams left in the Coppa Italia semi-finals with them are all predicted to end the season higher than Pioli's men in Serie A, therefore qualifying for Europe already.

Roma and Napoli take fifth and sixth, with Atalanta rounding off the Champions League spots in our model thanks to a five-point advantage over the Giallorossi.

SAMPDORIA AVOID THE DROP, RIVALS GENOA NOT SO LUCKY

Only one of the current bottom three escapes relegation in the simulation, with Lecce preserving their top-flight status at the expense of Genoa.

Il Grifone and bitter rivals Sampdoria sit just above the drop zone in reality, but our predicted table sees Genoa drop to Serie B for the first time since 2006-07 – last season they only guaranteed their survival on the final day.

The model has Genoa eventually reaching 36 points, but Samp and Lecce manage to climb to 41, giving them both a healthy five-point cushion.

Brescia unsurprisingly prop up the predicted table, given they are nine points from safety in the real standings. Our AI team give Brescia a 1.8 per cent chance of avoiding relegation.

Also going down in our predicted table are SPAL, whose haul of 29 points - one more than Brescia in this experiment - leaves them well adrift of safety.

'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s. 

The snowfall that hit Madrid in February 2018 initially appeared worse than it was, with the seas of white that engulfed fields, pitches and gardens in Spain's capital clearing quicker than one might've expected.

It was enough to cause Real Madrid to cancel their training for the day on February 5, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo an unexpected day off on his birthday – though daily sports publication AS were particularly critical of the club for essentially shutting down with a crucial Champions League tie with Paris Saint-Germain little more than a week away.

As it happened, Madrid went on to claim a third successive European crown, so the issue of a day off almost certainly won't have been raised again. However, it was this snowfall that proved a major disruption to the trial of a kid from the Canary Islands who was "about to sign", according to his father.

Pedri, 15 at the time, did not join Real Madrid. While he may have been shown the cold shoulder amid the snowfall, the midfielder subsequently signed with local side Las Palmas… And then Barcelona came calling.

Made for Barca

A diminutive, but effortlessly silky midfielder, it's little wonder Pedri will end up at Barca. "I have that Barca DNA," he said to EFE in his first major interview after his move was confirmed. "My desire is to resemble [Andres] Iniesta. I have always said he is my idol and he'll remain that until I die."

Pedri's rise has been impressive. In a little over a year, he progressed through the Juvenil A, B and Division de Honor teams in Las Palmas' academy before being introduced into the first-team picture just last year for pre-season.

He's now an undisputed starter at 17 – he initially didn't expect to even reach the Division de Honor team in 2019-20.

Las Palmas had been cautious about showing him off too early, aware that such a talent would immediately attract offers. Instead, they reportedly waited until they had him secured to a professional contract with a €30million release clause and then promised they'd sell him to an interested party straight away.

Barca made their move in September. An initial €5m could become €25m should Pedri meet certain criteria at Camp Nou – and at this point, few would bet against him making a lasting impression in Catalonia.

Once again Real Madrid were left frustrated, with a second attempt to sign Pedri coming too late – not that they would have necessarily been successful otherwise, as the teenager's father is the president of a local Barcelona supporters' club, which his grandfather founded.

"Barca DNA" indeed.

"One in a million"

Pepe Mel was the coach who put his faith in Pedri last year, the experienced tactician clearly stunned by the youngster's abilities.

"Look at this boy, because he's one in a million and he doesn't know it," Mel said at the time. "He will define a new era in Spanish football."

A bold prediction of one so young, but Pedri has taken to first-team football with immense comfort, his performances in La Segunda this season suggesting he's ready for LaLiga straight away and that Mel's foretelling might be on the money.

It had been expected that Pedri would spend another season on loan in the second tier with Las Palmas, or move to Barca's B team if they get promoted to the Segunda.

But now he is attracting loan interest from LaLiga clubs and appears set for a chance to impress first-team coaching staff in pre-season, whenever the coronavirus pandemic permits that period to be.

Shouldering the burden

While he possesses the skillset to play virtually anywhere across the midfield, by his own admission Pedri is most effective in the centre where he can take the game to the opposition, exploit gaps in defences and dazzle with his close dribbling.

Despite his age, Pedri has been a key player for Las Palmas this season, scoring three goals and setting up another four. Six of those goal involvements came in the first 10 matches of the campaign, highlighting there has been a bit of a dip in terms of overall productivity – though he's still proven effective.

Despite missing a chunk of the season to take part in the Under-17 World Cup in October and November, Pedri has played more league matches ( 26 ) than anyone else for Las Palmas this term and his 52 chances created is unmatched among team-mates. Only eight players in the entire league have produced more key passes.

Nineteen Segunda players have attempted more dribbles than Pedri's 83, but only two of them can improve on his 57 per cent completion rate.

And of 1,014 attempted passes, 80 per cent have found a team-mate. While by no means a startling statistic, context is key – many of those with better records on the face of it are central defenders or players operating in less-congested areas of the pitch than Pedri.

What's clear is, Pedri's already operating at a very high level for a 17-year-old. With many of Barca's midfield options aging, seemingly on their way out or unconvincing, an opportunity could present itself for him sooner rather than later. 

Snow may have prevented a move to Madrid two years ago, but Pedri can surely look forward to many frosty receptions in Clasico contests during the 2020s.

Paris Saint-Germain ended strong speculation about Jonathan Ikone joining Juventus when finally securing him to a professional contract in 2016. At the time, it was seen as a potential turning point for PSG's academy.

The attacker, who grew up in the same area of Paris as Kylian Mbappe, had long attracted admiring glances from some of Europe's biggest clubs, so PSG were eager to not let another get away.

Two years earlier, Kingsley Coman left for Juve when it became clear a route into the starting XI – and the France squad – was more straightforward in Turin than in Paris and, although injuries have since disrupted his career, there's little doubt PSG have been made to rue their ineptitude on that front.

Ikone's emergence was supposed to redeem PSG. For much of the QSI era, their use of homegrown young players has been heavily scrutinised.

"Jonathan is a midfielder with a big future," club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said after the contract was announced. "His signature is another example of the importance the youth academy holds for the club and just how much the club is counting on these young academy graduates."

But in 2018, PSG sold Ikone to Lille for a relatively insignificant fee – and the player has blossomed since his departure. 

False hope and new beginnings

After helping PSG to the UEFA Youth League final in 2015-16, Ikone's new contract was followed by promotion to the first team. He made a smattering of appearances before being allowed to join Montpellier on loan in January 2017.

This spell provided Ikone with his first genuine exposure to first-team football, playing 14 times in the second half of the 2016-17 Ligue 1 season.

He returned to Montpellier for the following campaign and, while it was not quite as fruitful as his first stint at the club, he did enough to earn a reported €5million switch to Lille, whose applaudable transfer policy in recent years has seen them snap up a host of well-regarded young players.

"We can say that PSG train young players very well, but actually playing there is complicated," Ikone told L'Equipe last year. "But the training you get in Paris, it's the best. Really, I enjoyed my time at PSG. I have no regrets. Getting playing time there is difficult, there are really great players there. So, I decided to show my talent at another club."

The transfer again raised doubts from some with respect to PSG's handling of their academy, while others suggested Ikone had not done enough to earn fresh terms, with the chance to earn a reasonable fee too good to turn down for PSG given his deal was due to expire in 2019.

Lille are reaping the rewards and will likely earn a significant fee when – if – he eventually leaves, with the latest reports suggesting he could be bound for the Premier League and Everton. At least PSG managed to secure a sell-on fee, which could amount to as much as 40 per cent of €70m, Les Dogues' apparent asking price.

Establishing himself

Although his skill set makes him a versatile option in attack, Ikone is at his most threatening when deployed as a no.10, behind the main striker.

The inside-right channel is where he operates most often, coming inside on to his left foot, allowing him a greater range of options whether he's dribbling, looking for a disguised pass or simply feeding Victor Osimhen into the space beyond defences.

Having been a regular option throughout the French youth setup, Ikone earned his first call-up to the senior side in September and netted on his debut, becoming the first player to do so for Les Bleus since Younes Kaboul and Marvin Martin in June 2011.

Skilful and inventive on the ball, there is a lot to like about Ikone, but he will not need anyone to tell him that staying in contention is not going to be an easy job.

France are blessed with a host of options in attack, many of whom boast similar strengths to Ikone.

Menacing but not in it for the long haul

Having scored three and set up nine goals in Ligue 1 last term, Ikone cannot be accused of a lack of consistency or taking a drastic backwards step. With a chunk of the season still remaining, he has the same amount of goals and six assists.

Ikone is averaging a goal involvement every 230 minutes, five less than last term, and appears to be playing with even greater confidence.

After averaging 3.6 dribbles per game in 2018-19, that's increased to just under five in 2019-20, while his completion rate has remained almost identical at 55 per cent. By comparison, Neymar's is 56 per cent.

Nevertheless, Ikone's productivity in the final third has significant room for improvement.

With 31 key passes, he is way behind the likes of Dimitri Payet (87), Angel Di Maria (77) and Zinedine Ferhat (52).

There are also doubts about his endurance. Since the start of last season, Ikone has been taken off 43 times in Ligue 1 alone.

But, at 21, he is developing impressively. While €70m may look a little steep at the moment, any potential buyer will hope there is still plenty more to come.

Garry Sobers is regarded as the greatest all-rounder in the history of cricket.

The West Indies legend burst onto the Test scene at just 17, setting the stage for a remarkable career.

His debut for his country came on March 30 back in 1954.

On the 66th anniversary of that occasion, we use Opta data to see just how Sobers stacks up against his fellow all-rounders.

A RUN FOR EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR

The most remarkable display of Sobers' batting credentials came in his stunning 365 not out against Pakistan.

That knock, which was a record when he produced it as a 21-year-old in 1958, stands as his all-time best from 93 Tests, eclipsing his all-rounder rivals.

Next on the list is England's Ben Stokes with 258, with South Africa's Jacques Kallis taking third spot with 224.

Of the rest, Stokes' compatriot Ian Botham (208) is the only other man with a double-century under his belt.
 

CONSISTENCY IS KEY

Compiling a big score is one thing, but consistently racking up runs is the real test of talent.

The numbers favour Sobers on that front, too. His average of 57.8 again puts him top of the pile.

Kallis comes a close second with 55.4, with none of the other contenders even breaking into the 40s.

Pakistan's Imran Khan averaged 37.7, with Keith Miller posting 37.0 for Australia.
 

SOBERS THE CENTURY KING

In 160 Test innings, Sobers recorded 26 centuries.

While that figure pales next to Kallis' 45, the Proteas great took 280 innings to reach that tally.

That means Sobers triumphs again in this category, with 16.3 per cent of his innings producing scores of 100 or more, with Kallis standing at 16.1 per cent.

Nobody else on the list can boast a double-figure percentage, with Botham on 8.7 and Miller on 8.
 

HANDY WITH THE BALL

Sobers claimed 235 wickets from 159 Test innings with the ball.

In this area, at least, he does have to take a back seat to some more prolific wicket-taking all-rounders.

Chief among them is Kapil Dev, who accounted for 434 victims in a stellar India career.

Richard Hadlee's 431 puts the New Zealander second, with Botham on 383 and Khan on 362.


BEST FIGURES STAND UP

With best figures of 6-73, Sobers compares favourably with his competitors. 

Hadlee and Dev both enjoyed nine-wicket innings, but Botham's 8-34 in 1978 against Pakistan is the pick of the bunch.

Sobers' best match figures are 8-80, with Hadlee the proud owner of a 15-wicket haul.

With 36 five-fors, Hadlee also leads the way on that score, with Botham (27) followed by Khan and Dev (both 23).

Sobers', meanwhile, had just six five-fors.


NOBODY IS PERFECT

Although the data clearly supports Sobers' status as the GOAT, there is one category in which he comes last.

His bowling average - still a very commendable 34 - is a long way short of the 22.3 that belongs to Hadlee.

Khan (22.8) and Miller (23) are also a long way ahead of Sobers.

March 25, 2013 proved a momentous day for Tiger Woods following a rocky few years.

An all-time golf great, Woods' career appeared to be spiralling out of control towards the end of the 2000s.

But he was back at the top of the pile in March 2013, signalling an impressive renaissance.

It was also a notable – albeit controversial – day for Mike Tyson back in 1995, as the infamous boxer was released from prison after being convicted of rape in 1992.

Below, we look at those and the other major events to happen in the sporting world on March 25.

 

1958 - Sugar Ray Robinson claims historic fifth title

The phrase "pound-for-pound" essentially came into being because of Sugar Ray Robinson – a fighter whose performances in the welterweight and middleweight divisions earned him renown. A professional boxer in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Robinson is regarded by many as the greatest of all-time and on this day in 1958 he became the first in history to win a world championship five times when he defeated Carmen Basilio.

1982 - Wayne Gretzky reaches 200 points for season

Wayne Gretzky's influence on ice hockey is unrivalled and he remains comfortably NHL's all-time leading points (goals and assists) scorer in history, with 2,857 – more than 900 clear of his closest challenger Jaromir Jagr. One of his finest accomplishments was becoming the first player to rack up 200 points in a single season during 1981-81, helping Edmonton Oilers to their first NHL title. He reached 200 with an assist early on against Calgary Flames, before adding another three points in that encounter. Gretzky finished the season with 212, 107 more than anyone else on the team.

1995 - Mike Tyson released from jail

After serving less than half of his six-year sentence for rape, Mike Tyson was released on March 25, 1995. He went on to ease through comeback fights against Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Jr, with Tyson's management accused of organising "tomato cans" to secure straightforward victories upon his return.

2013 - Tiger Woods regains world no.1 spot

After dominating golf in the 2000s, Woods endured a turbulent period from late 2009. Persistent injury problems, issues in his private life and struggles with a new swing all played a part in Woods dropping to 58th in November 2011. In March 2013, he was back on top thanks to victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, beating Justin Rose by two strokes.

2018 - Steve Smith punished for sandpaper gate

In March 2018, some Australia players were caught out in arguably the most infamous cricketing scandal ever. After admitting involvement in Cameron Bancroft's attempts at ball-tampering with sandpaper, captain Steve Smith was handed a one-match ban and fined 100 per cent of his fee by the International Cricket Council on March 25. That was just the tip of the iceberg, however. Smith and vice-captain David Warner were both banned for a year by Cricket Australia (CA), while Bancroft was given a nine-month suspension for his part in what CA labelled "cheating".

Has there ever been a football player you've loved watching so much that you could be confident of writing down a long list of reasons for your adoration?

For me, that player is Ronaldinho, and seeing as the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year and 2005 Ballon d'Or recipient turns 40 on Saturday, I wanted to pay tribute.

The former World Cup winner will celebrate his birthday in a maximum-security Paraguayan prison after being accused of entering the country on a fake passport – and he apparently continues to rack up goals and assists in kickabouts behind bars. Only Ronaldinho.

In honour of the legendary Brazilian on this landmark day, here are the 40 reasons why I love him.

 

1. Within three minutes of kick-off in a Paris Saint-Germain versus Marseille game I recorded on VHS in March 2003, he flicked the ball over the heads of two players and won a free-kick when dribbling away. When he scored with a dink over the keeper later in that game, a love affair was born.

2. He was the master of the no-look pass. And it didn't even need to be necessary.

3. Whether you call it an elastico or a flip-flap, Ronaldinho loved them. It was the trick I was most beguiled by as a teenager and, to my endless frustration, could never get right myself.

4. He marked his debut for Barcelona with a stunning 30-yard drive that crashed in off the underside of the crossbar. It was gone 01:00 local time!

5. Ronaldinho had arrived in Catalonia with the reputation of a party lover firmly established. Who can blame him – if you were that good, wouldn't you just want to constantly celebrate?

6. That goal against Chelsea.

7. He assisted Ludovic Giuly in a 3-0 win over Osasuna in October 2005 using his back. I mean, who does that?!

8. He picked Barcelona over Manchester United. Nothing against the Red Devils, but it would have been tough to watch him play for a Premier League team that wasn't mine.

9. That samba shuffle celebration and the thumb-and-little-finger hand gesture.

10. He got a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu – as a Barcelona player.

11. Those cascading locks and gummy smile.

12. He scored directly from a corner for Flamengo during a 3-2 defeat to Avai in 2011. Anyone with a 'gol olimpico' on their resume gets the utmost kudos.

13. As a keen follower of Brazilian football, I was delighted when Ronaldinho signed for Fluminense – the team I'd chosen to support during a three-month stay in Rio de Janeiro. It was somehow even better when he terminated his 18-month contract after just nine appearances.

14. Alongside former Everton striker Jo and current Everton winger Bernard, he helped Atletico Mineiro win their first Copa Libertadores title in 2013.

15. He always seemed to be playing with a smile on his face, or at least not far away from it.

16. Ronaldinho may have been in decline and far from his twinkling best when he rocked up at Liga MX side Queretaro, but a double against Club America earned him a standing ovation at the iconic Estadio Azteca.

17. He posed for a photo with me in Barcelona. OK, it was via a green screen, all right?!

18. That was during an October 2003 visit to the city that included going to watch Barca take on Real Murcia. Ronaldinho made sure to treat me to a goal in a 3-0 win.

19. He made England's elimination from the 2002 World Cup a little less painful with the most outrageous of goals. (I reckon he meant it, too.)

20. For starring in Nike's iconic 'The Cage' and 'Ole' adverts.

21. Somehow, he scored from behind the goal during a training session with Flamengo. It was the kind of sorcery most can only dream of.

22. Before going viral was a thing, Ronaldinho went viral. Footage of him juggling the ball and volleying it against the crossbar FOUR times in succession without it hitting the ground wrote him into folklore. I still don't know whether it was real or not…

23. When Ronaldinho dribbled, he did it at electric pace and with startling agility, and although he often took several knocks he did his utmost to stay on his feet.

24. It was a Champions League semi-final against Milan: chest control, the ball lifted over Gennaro Gattuso's head, flicked past Andrea Pirlo with two more touches, and when Alessandro Nesta deigned to get in his way, Ronaldinho stretched a leg out behind him and used his heel to square to Samuel Eto'o.

25. In the days before Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite struggled with freestyle tricks at Barcelona presentations, Ronaldinho was balancing the ball on his head, rolling it forward to give it a little kiss, then sending it back to rest on his forehead. That's how you do it.

26. He made great use of his shoulder; either to deftly bring the ball down or flick it on to a team-mate.

27. His 360-degree spin to get between two Werder Bremen players. It doesn't even matter that he was tackled by the next defender.

28. He did not join Manchester City after leaving Barcelona. (See point eight.)

29. For filling countless hours of my time at university with his YouTube highlights.

30. Ronaldinho was able to baffle defenders without even touching the ball.

31. Because he scored one of the most jarring chips during his time at Atletico. From 16 yards out on the left side of the box, with the Arsenal de Sarandi goalkeeper seemingly in a good position, Ronaldinho clipped a beautiful effort into the top-left corner.

32. Most of the greats excel from free-kicks. The sight of Ronaldinho stepping up to one in a central area from a 90-degree angle to the goal was a thing of beauty.

33. Because he did not retire straight away after leaving Fluminense. He said he wanted to continue playing (but only after Rio's famous carnival, of course) and ended up going on tour, playing in exhibition games for whoever would pay him.

34. For teeing up Lionel Messi's first senior goal for Barcelona, and doing it with a scoop pass.

35. Against Villarreal at Camp Nou in the 2006-07 season came one of his most memorable strikes. After controlling Xavi's cross with his chest, he span 180 degrees and sent a bicycle kick back across goal. *chef's kiss*

36. For scoring under-the-wall free-kicks at Barcelona, Flamengo and Atletico.

37. His 'water bottle trick' when Atletico took on Sao Paulo. Go and look it up. He showed zero shame in punishing Rogerio Ceni's goodwill.

38. Throughout his career Ronaldinho kept trying to score by stealing the ball away from goalkeepers as they took a drop kick.

39. Another El Clasico moment from April 2004. This time it was an outrageous scoop in behind for Xavi to lift beyond Iker Casillas in the 86th minute and secure a 2-1 win.

40. Because in my lifetime, no other player has made watching football as enjoyable as he did.

Live sport is proving difficult to come by amid the coronavirus pandemic, so we looked back through sporting history to identify major events or news to occur on this day.

March 19 certainly wasn't short of options, though we managed to nail it down to five occasions that were particularly notable.

They include the indictment of one former baseball player and another returning to the basketball court where he made his name.

Below, take yourself on a trip down memory lane… Or just get a little sporting education.

 

1978 – Nicklaus wins his third Players Championship

Jack Nicklaus enjoyed many a famous victory during his sparkling golfing career, but his win at the 1978 Players Championship was a peculiar one. In demanding weather conditions, with wind wreaking havoc, Nicklaus won his third Players title, beating Lou Graham by a single shot. No one finished the tournament below par, with Nicklaus' one-over 289 incredibly enough to secure him the title.

1984 – Former MLB pitcher McLain indicted

Regarded as a great during his time as a professional pitcher in baseball, Denny McLain's life away from the sport was rather more chaotic. Having gone off the rails after his career ran its course, McLain was charged with racketeering and narcotics violations on March 19, 1984, before being sentenced to 23 years in prison. He served two-and-a-half years, before an appeals court threw out the verdict and set McLain free. He went back to prison in 1996 on charges of embezzlement, money laundering, mail fraud and conspiracy.

1991 – Phoenix stripped of 1993 Super Bowl

The 1993 Super Bowl was due to be held in Phoenix, Arizona. However, the state's lack of recognition for Martin Luther King Jr. Day saw them stripped of the event. President Ronald Reagan had declared Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday eight years earlier and, at the time, Arizona adhered to the legislature. It wasn't until 1987 when Republican governor Evan Mecham took office that the MLK celebration was cancelled. The holiday returned to Arizona in 1993 following a vote the year before.

1995 – Michael Jordan returns

After 17 months away from basketball, during which time he had a spell in baseball, Michael Jordan was back on this day in 1995. Twenty-four hours after Jordan had announced "I'm back", he was playing once again for his beloved Chicago Bulls, scoring 19 points in an overtime 103-96 defeat to the Indiana Pacers.

2019 – Harden makes NBA history

Just last year, Houston Rockets guard James Harden made history when he became the first NBA player to score at least 30 points against every opponent in the league. He accomplished the feat with a haul of 31 in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Just the game before, Harden had seen his 32-game streak of scoring 30 points or more end – that remains the second-longest such run in NBA history.

With precious few sporting events taking place due to the coronavirus, we looked back through sporting history to identify key and major events to take place on this day.

March 18 has proven a busy day down the years, but we have highlighted five particularly memorable or notable occasions.

From the formation of a world-renowned football club, to the suspicious death of a former cricketer, below we have everything you need for a little education, or a trip down memory lane.

 

1900 – Ajax are formed

March 18 is a momentous day not only for Dutch football, but for the entire sport globally. On this day in 1900, Ajax were formed by Floris Stempel (their first chairman), Hen Dade (sports director) and Carel Reeser. Named after the mythological Greek war hero Ajax, most known for fighting against Troy in the Trojan War, the club has since gone on to dominate much of Dutch football history and influenced many of the most famous ideologies and philosophies in the world game.

1942 – Two black players try out for Chicago White Sox

Jackie Robinson is remembered as an iconic baseball player, in more ways than one. Regarded a great for his exploits with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was also the first black player to break the colour barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. However, he could have made the move from the 'Negro Leagues' five years earlier, as on March 18, 1942, Robinson and Nate Moreland – who was also black – had a trial with the Chicago White Sox. Manager Jimmy Dykes acknowledged their abilities, but he did not sign either, doubtful the White Sox would allow black players to join.

2000 – England win inaugural Six Nations

The Six Nations has had many forms through the years, initially starting off as a tournament between the British 'Home Nations' and then becoming the Five Nations. It was further expanded to its current guise in 2000 as Italy joined the fold. England won the inaugural Six Nations, thrashing the newcomers 57-12 in Rome – Jonny Wilkinson's kicking and Austin Healey's hat-trick of tries doing the damage.

2007 – Former cricketer and coach Bob Woolmer found dead

On March 18, 2007, one day after his Pakistan team were knocked out of the Cricket World Cup, coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room. Initially he was thought to have had a heart attack, only for another pathologist's report to suggest he had been murdered. Further reports proposed health problems contributed to his passing, but a jury later returned an open verdict, unable to rule out the theory Woolmer was strangled. Other prominent former cricketers have since claimed Woolmer did not die of natural causes.

2012 – Panathinaikos v Olympiacos leads to chaos

Those familiar with Greek football – and specifically the rivalries involved – will not be unaware of the problems often seen when Olympiacos and Panathinaikos face each other. In March 2012, the disturbances were particularly serious, as Panathinaikos were losing 1-0 at home to their bitter rivals. The second half was initially delayed by 45 minutes due to fans throwing flares and Molotov cocktails at police, and the contest was eventually abandoned. Twenty police officers were hurt, 50 fans were arrested, three fire engines were required to tackle blazes, and Pana were docked five points on top of having to play four games behind closed doors.

Few sporting events have been able to escape the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with public gatherings prohibited in many countries across the world.

So, with precious little live sporting events to keep fans entertained, many are looking to the past to satisfy those cravings.

Whether you hark back to specific 'Premier League Years', your favourite World Cups or that time your favourite tennis player lost in the Wimbledon final, nostalgia often has a big part to play in our love of sport.

Below, we picked out five noteworthy events from the world of sport that happened on this day – March 17.

 

1955 – The Richard Riot

Maurice Richard would not have known at the time just how much of an impact his actions on March 13, 1955 would have. A star of the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL, Richard struck a linesman during a match and was consequently banned for the rest of the season. Fans insisted it was too harsh, claiming the sanction was motivated by Richard's French-Canadian heritage. NHL president Clarence Campbell attended the Canadiens' next match and that sparked a riot, which was not contained to the Montreal Forum stadium. A reported $100,000 worth of damage was done, 37 people were injured and 100 arrests we made. Richard cooled the controversy as he accepted the punishment.

1977 – Australia win Centenary Test

Australia and England played out the Centenary Test on March 17, 1977, marking the 100th anniversary of what is considered to be the first Test cricket match. Starting on March 12 and concluding five days later, Australia won by 45 runs, the exact same margin of victory they recorded 100 years earlier.

1984 – Scotland end Five Nations wait

Scotland enjoyed a momentous day in rugby union on March 17, 1984. A 21-12 win over France at Murrayfield saw them clinch their first outright Five Nations win – and Triple Crown – since 1938, and their first Grand Slam since 1925, with Peter Dods' kicking proving decisive on the day. Scotland have only been the solitary winners of the competition – in either its previous guise or as the Six Nations – twice since.

2012 – Fabrice Muamba collapses in FA Cup match

English football was rocked on March 17, 2012, when Bolton Wanderers midfielder Muamba collapsed on the pitch during a televised FA Cup clash at Tottenham. The former England Under-21 player had suffered a cardiac arrest and it was later revealed his heart stopped for 78 minutes. Two days later, Muamba's heart was beating once again without assistance and he was eventually discharged from hospital on April 16. Although he had to retire early, Muamba has since gone into youth coaching.

2019 – McIlroy wins golf's biggest cash prize

This time last year, Rory McIlroy took home what was at the time the biggest purse in golfing history. At the 2019 Players Championship in Sawgrass, McIlroy carded rounds of 67, 65, 70 and 70 to finish 16 under and edge out Jim Furyk by a shot, clinching a pay cheque of $2.25m – the single biggest monetary prize handed out in golf at that point. However, the $3m Jon Rahm took home for winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai later that year set a new benchmark.

Serie A is on hiatus until at least April 3 amid the coronavirus pandemic, and authorities expect the suspension to continue long after the initially scheduled resumption date.

Only China – where the virus was discovered – has been hit harder by COVID-19 than Italy, where, as of Monday, there have been 24,747 confirmed cases and 1,809 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Prior to the disruption, free-scoring Atalanta and title-chasing Lazio had been the stories of the season, with Simone Inzaghi's men pushing defending champions Juventus hard for the Scudetto.

Inter showed signs they were heading back towards their former heights before losing ground in the title race, though the same cannot be said for Milan, who sit seventh.

With the help of Opta, we take a look at the most interesting facts relating to Serie A's top four and the Rossoneri.

JUVENTUS

- Juve have been trailing for 133 minutes in 2019-20, less time than any other team in Serie A this season.

- At home, Juve are unbeaten in their previous 34 league games (W29, D5), more than double the next best streak (Lazio's 15).

- This term, Cristiano Ronaldo equalled the record of 11 consecutive goalscoring appearances in a single Serie A season. He has also already levelled his haul of goals from 2018-19 despite making nine fewer appearances, averaging 0.95 goals per game compared to 0.68 last season.

- Among the players who made their debut in the three-points era, Ronaldo was the fastest to reach 42 goals (52 appearances) – before him the record was 58 games played (Vincenzo Montella, Andriy Shevchenko and Brazil great Ronaldo).

LAZIO

- Lazio are unbeaten in their previous 21 league games (W17 D4), already an all-time Serie A record for the club. Six of the seven previous teams with streaks as long as that in a single season went on to win the Scudetto (the only exception was Roma in 2009-10).

- Lazio have scored at least two goals in 19 games in the 2019-20 Serie A season. Only Liverpool (23), Manchester City (21) and Paris Saint-Germain (21) have done so in more games across Europe's top five leagues this term.

- Ciro Immobile has 27 goals in 26 games in 2019-20. Only Antonio Valentin Angelillo (29) in has managed more after 26 matchdays.

INTER

- Antonio Conte is the first Inter coach to see his team score in each of his first 19 games in all competitions.

- Inter have won nine of their 13 Serie A away games this season (D2 L2): only in the 2006-07 campaign have the Nerazzurri won more (11).

- Romelu Lukaku is one of three players to have scored at least 17 Serie A goals in their first 25 games of a debut season with Inter, emulating Giuseppe Meazza (1929-30) and Stefano Nyers (1948-49).

ATALANTA

- Atalanta's 70 goals in this Serie A campaign already represents their second-best haul in a single season (77 in 2018-19).

- No team has scored as many as 70 goals in the first 25 matches of a single Serie A season since 1959, when Fiorentina netted 79.

- Three Atalanta players are into double-figures in terms of goals in this season: Josip Ilicic, Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata. Only in 1949-50 and 1951-52 have the club had as many players reach 10 goals.

MILAN

- Since Stefano Pioli joined Milan, they have kept the most clean sheets in Serie A (seven).

- Milan have increased their winning percentage since the turn of the year across Serie A and the Coppa Italia. It was 35 per cent in 2019, rising to 50 per cent in the new year – they also increased their goals per game from 0.9 to 1.7.

- Since his first spell at Milan (which began in August 2010), Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 60 goals for the Rossoneri in all competitions, more than any other player with the club in the period.

Real Madrid went into Sunday's El Clasico fully aware that defeat could have proven ruinous to their season, leaving a five-point gap at the LaLiga summit after they suffered a massive midweek blow in the Champions League.

Zinedine Zidane and Madrid were tactically outclassed in their own stadium on Wednesday, with Manchester City coming away from the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with a potentially vital 2-1 win.

Pep Guardiola exposed their weaknesses with a switch of formation and system to focus on troubling Madrid behind their attack-minded full-backs – chiefly with Gabriel Jesus on the left. It proved decisive.

Barca coach Quique Setien confirmed in his pre-match news conference that he met with City boss Guardiola after that match, acknowledging there were elements of City's set-up that Barca would look to expose, aware they could "come in handy".

But there's little doubt Zidane learned his lesson, and his tweaks inspired Madrid's 2-0 Clasico win.

ZIZOU GETS IT RIGHT

He set Madrid up proactively with two holding midfielders, and Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde out wide, the latter two sat deep off the ball to essentially form a flat midfield.

The lung-busting Valverde's presence on the right ensured Jordi Alba had little luck in attack and plenty to think about at the back.

Pragmatic? Perhaps, but Madrid's formation undoubtedly contributed to limiting Barca's supply of chances, with Messi kept uncharacteristically quiet.

Toni Kroos' restoration to the starting XI after missing out against City was arguably the real key for Madrid, though.

KROOS CONTROL

The German's exclusion in midweek came as something of a shock and without him Madrid's overall pass completion was 86.5 per cent, and that increased to 88.2 per cent with him. Although minor in those terms, every little helps in matches of fine margins.

Against City, Madrid rarely looked in control and their move construction from midfield when transitioning was rather scattergun, Kroos' composure and vision obviously missed.

Upon his return, Kroos barely put a foot wrong all match. Suddenly Madrid seemed far more effective at picking their way through a press, as evidenced by the numerous counter-attacks they were able to launch on Sunday.

Kroos was accurate with 99 per cent of his passes and then played the decisive ball for Vinicius to put Madrid ahead, slipping the Brazilian into the left side of the box and he beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a little help from a Gerard Pique deflection.

MESSI FAILS TO SLICE THROUGH MADRID

Like Kroos, Messi was also tidy in possession, hitting his mark with 95 per cent of his passes. But he laid on only a single goal-scoring chance, while he was thwarted by Thibaut Courtois for his most presentable opportunity in the first half.

Messi set a new record for Clasico appearances by a Barca player – it was set up for a fittingly devastating performance to put one hand on the title.

But Barca's talisman simply failed to instigate effectively against Madrid's packed midfield, potentially leading to questions about his fitness after he was spotted seemingly limping earlier in the day.

And therein lies Barca's biggest problem: if Messi fails to turn the screw, they have no one else capable to rising to that level.

With Cristiano Ronaldo watching on in the stands, Messi's magic was in disappointingly short supply – but masterful Kroos validated Zidane's decision to recall him by steering Madrid to a potentially season-defining victory as they returned to LaLiga's summit.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are level on 72 LaLiga wins each in El Clasico, but Zinedine Zidane's side are facing an unwanted record on Sunday.

Madrid are winless against their rivals in seven league matches, meaning failure to beat Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend will set a new worst record for the club in Clasico history.

Not only that, but the Catalans are on a four-game winning streak in league trips to Madrid, and they have a man in charge who could be well placed to extend that run.

Quique Setien has faced Madrid eight times as a head coach in LaLiga and, as history shows, he has something of a knack when it comes to giving Los Blancos a tough time.

MADRID ARE SICK OF THE SIGHT OF SETIEN

"I'm blown by the north wind; I don't go down easily," Setien said last month amid growing unrest behind the scenes at Barca, as Eric Abidal and Lionel Messi began to play out a row in public.

That was not a problem of Setien's making, but Madrid would do well to heed his words - not that they need reminding about his pedigree.

In his eight previous visits to the Santiago Bernabeu as a coach, Setien has won two, drawn two, and lost four. That might not sound hugely impressive for a team such as, say, Barcelona - but what about Las Palmas and Real Betis?

In 2015-16, Setien's Canary Islanders went down 3-1 to Rafael Benitez's Madrid. The following season, with Zinedine Zidane in the opposite dugout, the scoreline was reversed, Las Palmas on the brink of a stunning victory only for Cristiano Ronaldo to score twice in the closing minutes.

His next visit came with Betis in September 2017, when Antonio Sanabria scored in the dying seconds to snatch a famous win. Then, on the final day of last season, Setien was celebrating again at the Bernabeu, this time as Loren Moron and Jese Rodriguez sealed a fully deserved 2-0 triumph.

"To the teams that I have been to lately," he said, "I have guaranteed only one thing, and that is that my team is going to play well." Madrid need no reminders.

STANDING UP TO BARCA SCRUTINY

One of the reasons behind Setien's appointment was to ensure a return to a Johan Cruyff-esque brand of football, removed from Ernesto Valverde's pragmatism.

Setien's method might just bring the boldness Barca will need to beat a Madrid team still smarting from the way they lost to Manchester City.

Setien has lost only half of his trips to the Bernabeu, the same ratio as Luis Enrique, who won two and lost two of his four games there. It's also a notable improvement on Valverde's record: he won nine of his 29 visits with Barca, Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol, losing 15 times and conceding 52 goals.

If there was any greater argument for Setien to stick to his principles of attacking, possession-based football, he need look no further than the man who made the approach his own in the modern game. Pep Guardiola has won 10, drawn four and lost only four of 18 games at the Bernabeu as a head coach.

Batten down the hatches – the north wind is coming.

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