Carlo Ancelotti confirmed Gareth Bale will leave Real Madrid when his contract expires in June as he hailed the forward who remains "a part of the history" at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid wrapped up the LaLiga title with four games to spare and host Real Betis on the final matchday of the league season, with a Champions League final against Liverpool to follow on May 28 in Paris.

Bale's role in their success to this point has been extremely limited, making just seven appearances in all competitions this season, totalling only 290 minutes of action.

The Wales international, who will hope to qualify for the World Cup when his country face either Ukraine or Scotland in their play-off final on June 5, was expected to leave Madrid when his contract runs out at the end of the season, and Ancelotti confirmed that was the case on Thursday.

Bale has won four Champions League titles during his nine-year spell in the Spanish capital, scoring three final goals.

But his exit will mark the end of a turbulent stay in Madrid, with his Los Blancos commitment regularly coming under scrutiny from Madridistas and the Spanish press.

Ancelotti could not promise Bale a final farewell appearance at the Bernabeu on Friday as injury problems persist, but the Italian insisted the 32-year-old's name will be etched into Madrid's history books.

"Bale isn't 100 per cent fit, and he won't be in the squad. Tomorrow I'll choose if he's on the bench or in the stands," Ancelotti told a pre-match news conference.

Asked about his future, Ancelotti added: "The contract ends, and he will leave. It is not so important if he plays tomorrow. Bale is part of the history of this club. He will remain in the memory of all Madrid fans.

"He was important in the Decima [the club's 10th Champions League win], in Kyiv, in the Copa del Rey. He has written important pages in this club's history, and we have to take that into account."

While Bale will not feature against Betis, who are winless in their past 10 LaLiga visits to teams from the Madrid region, Ancelotti will continue to rotate his side to build fitness for the Champions League final.

"I think about giving minutes to the players who need it the most," Ancelotti continued. "Tomorrow Marcelo, [Luka] Modric... [David] Alaba will train with the group starting on Monday."

Karim Benzema has scored 27 goals in LaLiga this season and is set to become the first French player to finish a campaign as the top scorer in the competition's history, but he is expected to be rested again.

Despite fielding another heavily rotated side, Ancelotti expects an exciting game against Copa del Rey winners Betis.

"We are the two teams that have won the competitions," he added. "It will be an entertaining game because Betis plays quality football."

Christian Eriksen would have a statue built in his honour in the next "two, three years" should he stay at Brentford, Thomas Frank has said.

Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest when playing for Denmark against Finland at Euro 2020, but survived the ordeal.

However, the 30-year-old was unable to play for Inter due to medical rulings in Italy preventing players from competing after having a cardioverter-defibrillator fitted.

Brentford subsequently offered the midfielder a six-month contract in January and Eriksen has starred, scoring once and assisting four in 10 league games to lift Brentford way clear of any danger.

Eriksen has also created 26 chances since his Brentford debut in February, with only Son Heung-min (27), Martin Odegaard (33) and Kevin De Bruyne (37) laying on more opportunities in the Premier League in that period.

Manchester United and Eriksen's former club Tottenham are reportedly circling, but Frank has reiterated his desire for his compatriot to stay with Brentford.

"I'd love to say 100 per cent but I am convinced there is a good chance that he will wear a Brentford shirt [next season]," he said of Eriksen at a news conference on Thursday.

"The way we play, our environment, and the role he is given, gives him an opportunity to flourish and play his best game.

"He enjoys going to work every day and I still think you can be extremely ambitious playing for us.

"I know I am optimistic, but I also picked up the phone and called him and said 'do you want to come to Brentford', no one thought about that six months ago.

"So I'm convinced we will have a chance, the way I see it for us it is a win-win. He helped the team, he gave something to the fans they have never seen before at this level.

"We helped him back to his football life again, for Christian it's a win-win, either he signs for us and everyone will be happy.

"The fans will build a statue of him outside the stadium in two, three years' time or he goes to a bigger level and we will applaud him and we will say thank you for your time; go forward."

Brentford will be hoping Eriksen can deliver again when they conclude their maiden Premier League season on Sunday against relegation-threatened Leeds United.

The NBA All-Rookie teams were unveiled on Wednesday, headlined by Rookie of the Year finalists Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley and winner Scottie Barnes in the All-Rookie First Team.

Joining the trio – who were all unanimous selections – on the First Team were Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner and Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green.

Cunningham, Green, Mobley and Barnes were the first four picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, while Wagner was the eighth selection.

They were also the only five rookies to average at least 15 points per game this season, putting a gap between themselves and sixth-highest scorer Chris Duarte at 13.1 points per game. It is the first time since at least 1985 that all five members of the All-Rookie First Team have each averaged at least 15 points per game.

The All-Rookie Second Team was made up of first-rounders Josh Giddey (sixth selection), Duarte (13th selection) and Bones Hyland (26th), as well as a pair of second-round picks in Herb Jones (35th) and Ayo Dosunmu (38th).

Orlando will have the number one pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and then the Rockets.

Eintracht Frankfurt boss Oliver Glasner believes his side cannot reach a higher level, despite their Europa League final win over Rangers on Wednesday ensuring Champions League football next season.

Glasner was full of praise for his side, who battled from a goal down following Joe Aribo's 57th minute opener for Rangers to equalise via Rafael Borre and force extra-time at 1-1, before claiming a 5-4 penalty shootout win.

With the Europa League triumph, Eintracht will play in Europe's premier cup competition for the first time since 1960 - where they eventually lost 7-3 in the final to Real Madrid – despite finishing 11th in the Bundesliga this season.

According to Glasner however, his side's mentality is already that of a top team and as a result, he did not have to provide much instruction during intervals as the match progressed.

"No, there is next level, it's impossible," Glasner said post-match. "I have to say a bit more about that. This year started difficult, but the players kept believing in themselves, what we told them, what we trained.

"That shows the character, mentality they have. The spirit developed, today we had players who weren’t eligible for Europe but they were never negative, they were not selfish, they did everything for success. That's why I wasn’t surprised that even when it was difficult, our fans were louder than Rangers' and they pushed us forward."

"I told the players the most important thing is that the referee doesn’t stress us, we have to control rhythm and I said just go do your thing like we've done so far, and that's it."

After an intense first half, Eintracht started to see more of the ball as the game slowed down but it did not translate into substantial opportunities and Aribo's opener could have further deflated their play.

The Eagles maintained in approach and eventually restored parity through Borre, beating Calvin Bassey to the ball and direct Filip Kostic's cross home in the 69th minute.

Glasner also singled out the 26-year-old Colombian, who scored the equaliser and winning penalty after Aaron Ramsey's attempt in the shootout was saved by Kevin Trapp, claiming the performance and outcome is reflective of the work he puts in.

"Rafa is incredibly important, not only the goals but he works hard even defensively and at half-time we showed the players some situations from the first half," Glasner said. "We didn’t have the intensity in attack and Rangers defended that well.

"We had to invest everything, attack the front post and he did that very well. He ran and then had a really good chance. He fought really hard – he deserved it. He was great. He really helps us and is also a leader."

Eintracht Frankfurt claimed their first European trophy in 42 years after a 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over Rangers at the end of 1-1 draw in the Europa League final in Seville on Wednesday.

Oliver Glasner's side were playing in their first European final since they beat Borussia Monchengladbach in the same competition in 1980 and they fell behind in the 57th minute when Joe Aribo took full advantage of some slapstick defending.

The Bundesliga outfit forced extra time at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan 12 minutes later, however, courtesy of Rafael Borre's close-range finish.

Borre was the hero in the shoot-out as well, the Colombian slamming home the decisive spot-kick after Aaron Ramsey had seen his penalty saved by Kevin Trapp, who had brilliantly denied Ryan Kent late in extra time.

Karolina Pliskova reached her maiden quarter-final of the season after battling past Bernarda Para in Strasbourg 6-3 1-6 6-1.

Runner-up to Ash Barty at Wimbledon last July, Pliskova has endured a stop-start 2022 campaign.

The Czech missed the first two months with a hand injury, while suffering first-round exits in Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid.

But despite being taken to a decider by her French opponent, the top seed hit 16 aces on the way to reaching the last eight.

Second seed Angelique Kerber also required a deciding set to progress to her first quarter-final of the campaign; the three-time Grand Slam winner overcoming Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2 3-6 6-4.

Fourth and ninth seeds Elise Mertens and Viktorija Golubic also advanced to the last eight following straight-set wins over Anna-Lena Friedsam and Fiona Ferro respectively.

However, there was no joy for top seed Garbine Muguruza over in Rabat; the two-time Grand Slam champion was beaten 2-6 6-4 6-1 by world number 85 Martina Trevisan.

The Italian's reward is a quarter-final showdown with seventh seed Arantxa Rus, who saw off Dalma Galfi 6-4 6-2.

Mayar Sherif was another seed to tumble; the Karlsruhe champion lost 4-6 7-6(5) 6-1 to Claire Liu, who triumphed in the Trophee Lagardere last week.

Third seed Nuria Parrizas Diaz recovered from losing the opening set to defeat Kristina Mladenovic 4-6 6-3 6-0, while Anna Bondar hit seven aces as she overcame Kristina Kucova 6-3 6-3. 

Quinton de Kock's incredible 140 was only just enough as the Lucknow Super Giants edged to victory against the Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday, securing their place in the playoffs.

An astonishing contest came down to the last ball, and just as it looked as though KKR would reach the improbable target of 211, two wickets from the final two balls from Marcus Stoinis (3-23) sealed a dramatic two-run win for LSG.

De Kock and KL Rahul became only the fourth opening pair to bat first and go through an Indian Premier League innings without dismissal as they put on 210-0 from their 20 overs, the highest unbeaten opening partnership in IPL history.

The South African's score of 140 from 70 balls was the third-highest in IPL history, after Chris Gayle's 175 not out for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Pune Warriors India in 2013, and Brendon McCullum's 158 not out for KKR against RCB in 2008.

However, Rinku Singh's 40 from 14 balls looked to have put KKR on the verge of victory, needing just three from the final two deliveries, only for Rinku and then Umesh Yadav to both fall to Stoinis.

Rahul was steady in his 68 from 51 balls, but the fireworks came from De Kock, particularly near the end of the innings, hitting four sixes in the 19th over off the bowling of Tim Southee (0-57).

The Knight Riders' response could not have got off to a more contrasting start, with Venkatesh Iyer (0) and Abhijeet Tomar (4) both out early on to Mohsin Khan.

Nitish Rana's 44 from 22 balls showed some fight, before Shreyas Iyer (50 from 29) and Sam Billings (36 from 24) put their team in a position where victory actually looked possible, but the former spooned a Stoinis delivery into the air and into the waiting hands of Deepak Hooda just after reaching his half-century.

Rinku and Sunil Narine (21 not out) had one last go at reviving hope for KKR and very nearly managed it, only for Stoinis to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with the last two deliveries to secure a vital win for the Super Giants, sealing their place in the playoffs, while KKR miss out.

De Kock wows the crowd

The fans could not believe what they were seeing as De Kock fired the ball to all sides of the ground with almost every shot imaginable.

The 29-year-old hit 20 boundaries in all (10 sixes and 10 fours) and, having only scored 362 runs from his previous 13 innings in the IPL this season, nudged himself over 500 and into third-place behind Jos Buttler (627) and Rahul (527) on the leaderboard for most runs.

So near yet so far for Rinku

When Rinku arrived at the crease his team still needed 69 runs from 26 balls. When he went back to the pavilion having hit a Stoinis delivery to Evin Lewis for a tremendous catch, his team were only three from victory.

It wasn't to be, but his two fours and four sixes from just 15 balls along with Narine's 21 from seven gave their team hope when there had previously been very little.

The Philadelphia Eagles have boosted their defense with the signing of cornerback James Bradberry on a one-year deal.

Bradberry arrives on a deal reportedly worth $10million following his release by the New York Giants, who let him go for salary cap relief.

A Pro Bowler in 2020, Bradberry has delivered consistent production across his NFL career.

His 2020 season with the Giants saw him record 18 pass breakups and three interceptions, and he followed that up with 17 breakups and four picks in 2021, despite the Giants finishing bottom of the NFC East with a 4-13 record.

Only J.C. Jackson (37) and Xavien Howard (36) have registered more breakups than Bradberry's tally of 35 over the past two seasons.

He will now form what looks an imposing starting cornerback partnership with Darius Slay.

Since 2016, Slay and Bradberry are the only two players in the NFL to register at least 15 interceptions and 80 or more pass breakups.

Having excelled on a struggling Giants team, the Eagles will hope Bradberry can continue to thrive on a defense that was the eighth-best in opponent yards per play allowed in 2021 as they look to take the next step following last season's Wild Card round exit.

Ravi Shastri has urged the BCCI to give Umran Malik a central contract with India "straightaway" and says the paceman will be a "handful" in red-ball cricket.

Malik has taken the 2022 Indian Premier League by storm, claiming 21 wickets at an average of 20 for Sunrisers Hyderabad.

The 22-year-old clocked the fastest ball in this year's tournament with a delivery that registered 156.9 kilometres per hour on the speed gun against Delhi Capitals this month.

Malik rattled India captain Rohit Sharma on the helmet and took 3-23 to make another huge statement in Sunrisers' win over Mumbai Indians on Tuesday.

He became the youngest Indian to take 20 wickets in an IPL season with his latest exhibition of explosive pace bowling.

Former India head coach Shastri wants to see the rapid Malik in Rohit's pace attack on the international stage in the near future.

"Central contract straightaway," Shastri said on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time Out.

"And keep him in the mix, don't let him float around. Keep him in the mix with the main players and then he learns seeing (and) being around with the [Mohammed] Shamis and the [Jasprit] Bumrahs, and see the way they train, see the way they manage their workload.

"Of course, there'll be the team management there, support staff, that'll help him do that, but don't let him stray at the moment. Get him into the mix, and keep him there and groom him."

Shastri says the quick will be even more potent when he learns to bowl with more control.

He said: "He'll get better and better. You see his bowling once he takes a wicket. Look at the lines he starts bowling as opposed to when he has not got a wicket – that's when he is trying everything, his lines are all over the place.

"You don't want him to cut down on pace. The last thing you would tell him looking for control, cut down on pace. What you want him to do is get his lines right: if he can bowl that stump line, attack the stumps on a constant basis, varying his lengths, he will trouble [batters].

"If he gets a wicket and new guy comes in, he can really rattle him because he has got the pace, he can keep the bloke on his toes, but it's that line - if he gets into that channel, without cutting his pace it will make a huge difference."

Shastri says Malik can provide a new dimension to the India Test attack.

"I promise you, this guy is going to be a handful in red-ball cricket. Handful, really. If he is part of an Indian pace battery that has Bumrah, Shami, you add this bloke in, a fourth guy, it's going to be a serious attack," he added.

Michael Jordan has company at last.

The Chicago Bulls legend was for a long time the only player to average more than 30 points per game in the NBA playoffs, yet Luka Doncic is now writing his own name into the history books in Dallas.

The Mavericks superstar has a long way to go before he can come anywhere close to matching Jordan's achievements, but he has been spectacular in scoring 32.7 points per game through his first four postseason series.

Not only is Jordan (33.4 points per game) the sole player to top Doncic's mark across a playoff career, he alone since 1963-64 joins the former EuroLeague sensation in scoring more than 750 points over his first 23 postseason games (823 for Jordan, 751 for Doncic).

These look to be early steps in a truly great NBA career for Doncic, and he could yet end this season as a champion.

The Slovenian was outgunned taking on the Los Angeles Clippers on his own in the first round in consecutive years, but the Mavericks made bold moves this year – most notably appointing Jason Kidd and trading away Kristaps Porzingis – and are now in the Western Conference Finals.

Although Doncic averaged 32.6 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns in the second round, he crucially had help, now surrounded with defense and shooting.

Dallas held the Suns to their three lowest points totals of the season (94 in Game 3, 90 in Game 7, 86 in Game 6), while Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie became the first team-mates to each score 30 points in a Game 7 since Los Angeles Lakers greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.

As the tournament heats up, Doncic will need all the assistance he can get – but any Mavericks title run surely depends on their main man being the best player in every series.

That becomes a little tougher when Dallas are faced next with playoff veterans the Golden State Warriors.

This is the 10th year of the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors, in which time they have been to five NBA Finals, won three championships and seen off a whole host of superstars.

There are plenty of examples for Doncic to learn from then as he prepares to take on the greatest team of the past decade.

LeBron James (33.0 points per game, 7-15 record)

Ja Morant, who scored 35 points against Golden State in last year's play-in tournament, averaged 38.3 points across three games in the 2022 second round until a knee injury ended his series and, ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies' season. That is the highest mark posted against the Warriors in the past 10 years, albeit with a limited sample size.

Among those to play 10 or more games, James (33.0 points per game) leads the way. Equally as impressive, the four-time MVP has the most total playoff points versus the Warriors since 2012 (727) – despite spending the bulk of his career in the Eastern Conference.

 

James did score 22 in a Lakers play-in win over the Warriors in 2021, but all of their 22 postseason encounters have come across four Finals series. Unfortunately, while James has excelled, his teams have not fared quite so well.

Prior to Morant's explosion, James accounted for three of the four highest series averages against the Warriors over this period – 35.8 in 2015, 34.0 in 2018 and 33.6 in 2017 – but the Cleveland Cavaliers lost on each occasion. Their one Finals win came in 2016, when James scored 29.7 points per game.

James had a little more help in 2016 – we'll come on to that – and the Cavaliers' various failures perhaps best illustrate the folly of Doncic attempting to take on a super-team alone.

The 51 points James scored in Game 1 in 2018 were the most against the Warriors in a single playoff game in the past 10 years, but he was let down by his team-mates – we're looking at you, J.R. Smith – and Cleveland not only lost that series opener but were then swept.

James Harden (29.8 points per game, 7-16 record)

Harden's playoff career is best known for his repeated failures to get the better of the Warriors, losing all of his four series against Golden State while on the Houston Rockets, yet only James has scored more points in such matchups since 2012 (685).

Counted among Harden's 23 postseason games against the Warriors in the past 10 years – only Iman Shumpert (24) has played more – are three 41-plus-point performances. James alone can top that (five games).

However, Harden has also failed to reach 20 points on five occasions, twice shooting worse than 20 per cent from the field in 2015. Consistency is the key at this time of year, and Harden has not had that.

The Rockets blew their biggest opportunity to make a first Finals since 1995 in 2018, when they led the Warriors 3-2 in the Conference Finals before Chris Paul went down injured. Houston lost Game 6 and Game 7, collapsing dramatically in the first of the two defeats as Harden did not contribute a single fourth-quarter point.

Doncic, unsurprisingly, has never shot worse than 20 per cent in the playoffs, while his best shooting performance (63.2 per cent) came in Game 7 against the Suns and his career-high points total came in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers (46).

Kyrie Irving (27.7 points per game, 5-8 record)

Given Irving was the Cavaliers' second man behind James, it is difficult to draw a direct comparison with Doncic. But the point guard's performances show the sort of levels Dinwiddie or Jalen Brunson may have to reach to beat the Warriors if they are at the top of their game.

Irving's 2015 Finals debut ended in Game 1 when he sustained a fractured kneecap, but he returned in 2016 and played a huge role in the Cavaliers' historic win.

Cleveland were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 – a deficit that had never previously been overturned – only for Irving and James each to score 41 points, becoming the first team-mates to both top 40 in a Finals game. Irving shot 70.8 per cent from the field.

As the Cavaliers recovered to win 4-3, with Irving shooting a decisive three late in Game 7, his usage rate was a lofty 30.7 per cent for the series, taking responsibility off James' shoulders. Brunson is the Mavericks' second man, although his usage rate of 29.7 per cent was boosted a little by playing three games without the ball-dominant Doncic.

Damian Lillard (27.6 points per game, 1-12 record)

If nothing else, Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers provide an example of how not to play the Warriors. Only former Blazers team-mate Rodney Hood (0-12) has a worse record in playoff games against Golden State in the past 10 years.

A 43.7 per cent career shooter, Lillard has averaged 38.7 per cent from the field against the Warriors in the postseason. Sure, he has scored 27.6 points, but it has taken him 22.1 field goal attempts per game.

When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are on the other side of the floor, you cannot afford to be so inefficient. Lillard's sole victory in 2016 came courtesy of his one 40-point performance – while Curry was out injured.

Only Allen Iverson (26.5) and Jordan (25.1) have attempted more field goals per playoff game than Doncic (24.3), so there is definitely scope for the Warriors to profit if he cools off – not that there has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that is likely.

Kawhi Leonard (21.9 points per game, 8-5 record)

The man who has occupied Doncic's playoff nightmares in the previous two seasons surely provides the blueprint for how to enjoy postseason success against the Warriors.

Leonard has played on two of the four teams to eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in the past 10 years; he has not lost a series to the Warriors – missing the entirety of their 4-1 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 – and boasts the best winning percentage of any player to face Steve Kerr's winning machine on more than 10 occasions over this period.

The 2019 Finals showed the sort of standard that has been required to get the better of the Warriors in the past decade, with Leonard dominant as the outstanding player on the Toronto Raptors. He led the Raptors in points (171), rebounds (59) and steals (12) versus the Warriors, ranking second in assists (25) and blocks (seven).

 

Doncic made strides on defense over the course of the Suns series, but whether he is capable of such an all-round display is very much up for debate.

The drivers' and constructors' championships both heating up as Formula One makes its seasonal return to Europe seems fitting. 

After legs in the Middle East, Australia and North America, Red Bull are comprehensively in the fight against Ferrari heading into this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

With consecutive race wins at the Emilia Romagna GP and Miami GP following DNFs in Bahrain and Australia, Max Verstappen has closed the gap to standings leader Charles Leclerc to 19 points.

After coming perilously close to such an error at Imola, a single mistake or DNF for Leclerc and a full points haul for Verstappen could see momentum in the drivers' championship completely shift.

Barcelona is a happy hunting ground for Verstappen, who claimed victory there in 2016 in only his first drive for Red Bull.

It could continue if the reigning world champion secures pole position, having converted 14 career poles into 10 race victories, the best rate of any driver in F1 history.

Meanwhile, with Sergio Perez also contributing with solid driving and good race pace on Sunday, Red Bull have cut the gap in the constructors' standings to only six points.

Only in Monaco have the team collected more points than in Spain, with 332 compared to 312, but that could change this weekend.

With a fifth consecutive top-four finish, Perez could equal his best such run of results, recorded between Turkey and Qatar last season.

Ferrari set for upgrades

The gravity of Red Bull's resurgence could arguably be crystallised in the likelihood Ferrari will have upgrades installed for this weekend after only tinkering and researching on race weekends to this point.

Leclerc will be looking to lead from the front, with all four of his race wins in F1 coming from pole position.

Carlos Sainz will also be hoping for a strong finish at his home grand prix, where he has accumulated the most points (40) in his career alongside Monaco.

Can Mercedes challenge?

While they might not be a championship contender in either the drivers' or constructors' standings, Mercedes have at least shown improved performance to potentially challenge for podiums and race wins.

The Silver Arrows come into this contest having taken the past nine pole positions in Barcelona, and they will likely need to make it another to challenge on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton is still waiting to surpass Michael Schumacher for the most consecutive seasons with a race win.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 104
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 85
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 66
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 59 
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 53

Constructors

1. Ferrari 157
2. Red Bull 151
3. Mercedes 95
4. McLaren 46
5. Alfa Romeo 31

In a pre-match news conference lacking much talk of the opposition, there was one question that stood out in that regard ahead of Rangers' Europa League final clash with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Gers captain James Tavernier was pointedly asked for his opinion on Eintracht wing-back Filip Kostic, given the pair are likely to see a lot of each other on the flank they'll share.

"Obviously I respect how he's been playing, he's a top player," Tavernier said. "But, I've just got to bring the best version of myself when the game starts and try to cause him all the problems, try to make him deal with me for the majority of the game. That's all I can really do."

Tavernier's response didn't offer any particularly great insight, but his mentality of wanting to cause Kostic as many problems was at least another identifier of how their duel could be such a key battle.

Of course, it's worth pointing out that Tavernier, a right-back, remarkably heads into Wednesday's game as the Europa League's top scorer on seven goals, and realistically – or, unrealistically – only a hat-trick from Eintracht's Daichi Kamada can prevent the Englishman from at least ending the season with a share of the competition's golden boot.

Further to that, he netted 19 times over the course of the 2020-21 season and could yet match that figure this term – he also has an impressive assists haul of 17.

If it needs reiterating, he's a huge contributor for Rangers in the final third.

So, given he's technically a right-back, there's obviously an element of Tavernier needing to be solid defensively on Wednesday, but some might suggest it's even more essential he's as sharp as ever going forward as that would not only give Rangers a credible threat on the right, but it would potentially keep Kostic occupied in a deeper position.

Granted, Eintracht's set-up with a back three should always ensure they have an extra man to cover for Kostic's runs forward, while the two attacking midfielders supporting Rafael Borre up top often occupy narrow, deeper berths in order to maximise the space out wide for their biggest threat.

Yet there's always the possibility of an overload in behind Kostic if the conditions are right, such is his attacking influence.

 

After all, the frequency at which Kostic delivers into the box is frankly astonishing. This season, he has been the executor of 519 crosses and corners, 140 more than any other player in the top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold is second with 379.

Kostic's 78 successful crosses from open play is also a season-high. Of course, you would expect him to lead the way given he's attempted so many more than anyone else, but his 26.8 per cent accuracy (crosses/corners) is right in line with the average (among players with at least 100 attempted). That in itself is impressive given his greater frequency.

Another way of looking at it is, he is producing one accurate open-play cross every 45.4 minutes. While that may not sound incredible on the face of it, his 12.4 expected assists (xA) is the 10th highest among players in the top five leagues, highlighting just how much of a weapon he is in terms of his creative quality.

So, while he may be classed as a wing-back in terms of his position on a team line-up graphic, the Serbian is there for his attacking tendencies.

A cursory glance at his map of open-play chances created proves that point.

 

But Rangers must also be aware of the danger posed on the opposite flank.

Ansgar Knauff has been one of the stars of Eintracht's journey to the final, with the 20-year-old becoming something of a revelation in the past few months.

As recently as mid-January he was turning out for Borussia Dortmund's second team in the third tier. Then he joined Eintracht on loan and has since scored important Europa League goals against Barcelona and West Ham.

His impact on the road to Seville has been significant, with his brilliant athleticism, bravery and confidence on the ball making him a real asset on the right-hand side.

Before Knauff's arrival, Eintracht were rather lopsided, with their other options on the right far from convincing. Sure, Kostic remains their main outlet, but Knauff's emergence has provided them with another – albeit stylistically different – threat on the other side, giving them greater balance.

 

Across all competitions since his Eintracht debut in early February, only Kostic (5.6) and Jesper Lindstrom (2.6) have amassed better xA records than Knauff, who is also fifth to those two, Borre and Kamada in terms of xA and xG (expected goals) combined.

He may not be their deadliest weapon, but he's proven he can offer them a lot, and his team-high 61 dribble attempts in that period proves he's happy to make his markers work for their money.

Oliver Glasner's team is full of neat, technical players and is also blessed with fine work ethic, as it would need to be to play their high-pressing football.

But their width and desire to attack from the flanks is fundamental to how they play – while it may be easier said than done, limiting their effectiveness out wide would go a long way to ending Rangers' 50-year European trophy drought.

Liverpool's squad players were describes as "Ferraris in the garage" by Jurgen Klopp after the title chasers came from behind to beat Southampton.

Klopp made nine changes to his line-up for the trip to St Mary's on Tuesday, where Liverpool realistically had to win to keep hopes of winning the Premier League title alive.

Although the Reds fell behind to Nathan Redmond's opener, Takumi Minamino pulled them level before half-time and Joel Matip's header secured a huge three points.

Minamino also scored in his most recent previous Premier League start for Liverpool – a 7-0 win over Crystal Palace in December 2020. That gap of 514 days between scoring in consecutive starts for a top-flight club is the longest since Duncan Ferguson's 533 days for Everton from April 2002 until September 2003.

Klopp was proud of the result and said any further success that EFL Cup and FA Cup winners Liverpool experience this season is down to the strength in depth they possess.

"I'm so happy about the performance, it was a bit touching, to be honest," Klopp told a post-match news conference.

"These boys, it's like having Ferraris in the garage. Harvey [Elliott], I'm not sure when he played last. Curtis [Jones], no rhythm, he played from time to time. Takumi Minamino, it's a crime he's not playing more often. Oxlade [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain] didn't even play and he's in outstanding shape.

"It's really tough for the boys, but whatever happens this year happened because of this group. It's exceptional, and tonight they showed that again."

Klopp added to Sky Sports: "I've never had a group like this. Because we win most of the time there are not a lot of things you can really argue about. But there are two opportunities how you can deal with it: you give up, or you play your role in the group, and this group push each other constantly.

"In the end it's absolutely outstanding. We came here and had to do what we did, and it worked out because of the boys." 

Joe Gomez hobbled off injured at half-time and did not return for the second half. Klopp was hopeful the defender had avoided a serious injury, though he reportedly left the stadium on crutches.

"I hope we are lucky. Joe himself has pain but not too much, but it was really like a shock to the system,” Klopp said.

“He was sitting in the dressing room, when I spoke to him he was in a good mood so I think we were probably lucky, but we have to figure that out."

Liverpool are one point behind leaders Manchester City, and will have to beat Wolves at Anfield on Sunday to stand any chance of winning the Premier League.

City will be entertaining Aston Villa at the same time, but Klopp is not planning to chat to Steven Gerrard before he takes his side to the Etihad Stadium.

"No, of course not … There's no reason to talk to him [Gerrard]. We all know Villa wants to win because Villa wants to win," said Klopp.

"We have to first win our game, we can't talk about Wolves as if they will not be there. It's difficult enough.

"Imagine we went there with one ear in Manchester and [Raul] Jimenez headed in the ball. We will be 100 per cent focused.

"So many things happened in this second half of the season. If we become champions it would be deserved as well, but for that we have to win."

Joel Matip ensured the Premier League title race will go to the final day as Liverpool came from behind to win 2-1 at Southampton.

A Reds team showing nine changes from the weekend's FA Cup final over Chelsea found themselves down early through a fine Nathan Redmond strike.

However, Liverpool responded through a thunderous Takumi Minamino strike before the break and went on to secure the win in the second half as Matip headed home a corner in the 67th minute.

Victory moved Jurgen Klopp's men to just a point behind Manchester City at the summit, meaning the teams' respective final-day showdowns with Wolves and Aston Villa will decide the destination of the title.

Liverpool enjoyed plenty of the ball early on but were given a scare when Armando Broja escaped on the break before being denied by the trailing leg of Alisson.

A failure to heed that warning was punished with just 13 minutes gone as another Southampton counter ended with Redmond cutting in off the left to thrash a curling effort into the top-right corner.

Klopp was incensed by the failure to award a foul on Diogo Jota in the build-up to that goal, but that did not stop his team responding well to the setback.

They were denied an equaliser when Roberto Firmino was flagged offside in heading home a free-kick, but restored parity after 27 minutes as Minamino smashed home a cute Diogo Jota pass at close range.

That prompted a spell of Liverpool dominance, though they were unable to punish some lax Saints defending before a half-time break that saw Joe Gomez withdrawn due to injury. Jota poked the ball inches wide shortly after the restart following great work from Kostas Tsimikas.

The chances kept coming, Harvey Elliott hitting the side-netting, Jota skewing wide, and Firmino sending in a weak shot from distance. As such, it was no real surprise when the goal eventually came and, in fact, neither was the method.

Only Leicester City had conceded more headers than Southampton in the Premier League this term, while Liverpool had scored a league-high 15 goals in that manner and added another when Matip met Tsimikas' corner to loop one in.

Southampton tried to rally from there, but struggled to see much of the ball as Liverpool ensured City still have work to do on the final day.

While quarterback-needy teams grappled with the decision over whether to bet on a member of an underwhelming 2022 draft class at the position, those teams who were astute enough to select a signal-caller from the loaded 2021 class spent their offseasons attempting to stack the deck around the player they handpicked as the future of the franchise.

The 2022 season will be a significant one for Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones, with questions sure to be asked of the five first-round picks if they do not show signs of vindicating their respective franchises for selecting them last year.

Jones arguably already proved himself as the most pro-ready QB of the quintet in an impressive rookie campaign, but 2022 may well reveal how high the ceiling is for the least physically gifted of the bunch. The rest are all aiming to prove they have the skill sets to join the league's expanding and increasingly youthful elite at the NFL's most important position. 

Indeed, the first four quarterbacks off the board in 2021 were all regarded as players with the potential to elevate those around them and take their offenses to new heights. But a quarterback, regardless of his athletic and mental gifts, cannot do it all himself. So who among the 2021 first-rounders has the best supporting cast to help them excel?

To help us answer that question, we at Stats Perform have gone back to look at our post-free agency positional unit baselines that inform our team rankings.

The baselines were produced for seven different units: quarterback, pass blocking, run blocking, route runners/pass catchers, pass rush, run defense and pass defense. The units are comprised of projected playing time for players on the roster combined with the player baselines linked to each of those units.

An individual player has a year-over-year baseline for a unit input (i.e. pass blocking for a team's projected left tackle). His baseline is combined with those of his team-mates and then adjusted for the importance of the position to that unit to produce an overall unit baseline.

The six non-quarterback baselines, plus a look at some of the moves made in the draft by each quarterback's respective team, provide a picture that reveals which of the second-year signal-callers have the talent around them to thrive.

5. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

Even though the numbers are not impressive, there were clear flashes of promise in Fields' rookie season with the Bears.

While he only finished with a 70.9 well-thrown percentage – seven percentage points below the average for quarterbacks with at least 50 throws – and had a pickable pass rate of 5.36 per cent that was the eighth-worst among that group, Fields did display the upside that led the Bears to trade up for him.

Only two quarterbacks averaged more air yards per attempt than Fields' 10.02 and his three passing plays of 50 yards or more were the most of all rookie quarterbacks and as many as Josh Allen and Justin Herbert managed all season.

You would think, therefore, that the Bears' focus this offseason would be on giving Fields the weapons to produce further explosive plays in 2022. Not so, the Bears waited until the third round to add a wide receiver in the draft – 25-year-old return specialist Velus Jones Jr.

The Bears' reluctance to add to a group of pass-catchers that prior to the draft had the sixth-lowest unit baseline in the NFL hardly suggests at a sophomore surge for Fields in 2022.

And with Chicago's offensive line among the worst in the league for pass protection and run-blocking baseline and its defense in the bottom six for pass defense and bottom three for pass rush, it appears likely to be another year when Fields is swimming against a tide engineered by his own franchise.

4. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Simply having an adult in the room with experience of winning at the NFL level should help Lawrence's cause, with Doug Pederson a substantial improvement on Urban Meyer as head coach.

As is the case with Fields in Chicago, Pederson will hope Lwrence can build on last season's flashes of the talent that led some to label him as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012. Lawrence's well-thrown percentage of 76.3 was significantly better than that of Fields, but his 26 pickable passes were the fourth-most in the league.

Unlike the Bears, the Jags invested heavily in getting Lawrence receiving help, doing so in a bemusing manner as they threw eye-watering amounts of money at players who fit best as secondary targets rather than as the leading receiver for a player dubbed a 'generational' quarterback prospect.

Indeed, the lucrative deals handed out to the likes of Christian Kirk and Zay Jones only put them 20th in pass-catching unit baseline prior to the draft. The hope will be that Kirk, who was seventh among receivers with at least 100 targets with a big-play rate of 35.6 per cent last year, can help Lawrence generate more explosives in year two.

And while much of the Jags' roster still reeks of mediocrity, an offensive line that ranked fourth in pass-block win rate in 2021 may give him the time to help justify the Jags' belief in Kirk and Lawrence's other new weapons.

3. Zach Wilson, New York Jets

The Jets received almost universal praise for their draft, acquiring cornerback Sauce Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II in the first round before then adding the consensus top running back in the class – Iowa State's Breece Hall – in the second.

Their roster looks in significantly better shape than it did at the end of the 2021 campaign, but the Jets were working from a pretty low starting point.

Coming out of free agency, only six teams had a lower unit baseline among their pass-catchers than the Jets, whose offensive line was in the bottom half of the league in pass protection baseline and in the run-blocking baseline.

Johnson's arrival and the return of fellow edge rusher Carl Lawson from injury should provide a clear boost to a pass rush that was fourth in unit baseline last year while a secondary that exited free agency just outside the top 10 in pass defense baseline appears much better equipped to provide support to Wilson and the offense.

However, Wilson had the worst well-thrown percentage (66.6) of any rookie quarterback last season, with Fields (5.36) and fellow rookie Davis Mills (5.56) the only two quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts to have a higher pickable pass rate than Wilson's 5.21 per cent.

The Jets are relying on Mekhi Becton to get healthy and play a full season at left tackle and, though they have some more established options at tight end and receiver, are also putting a lot on a rookie receiver in likely leaning heavily on Garrett Wilson to elevate his second-year quarterback.

It has been a successful offseason for the Jets, but a lot needs to happen for their hopes of a second-year leap for team and quarterback to come to fruition.

2. Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Were it not for the outstanding season enjoyed by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Jones may well have won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The outstanding accuracy Jones demonstrated at Alabama translated to the pros, Jones producing a well-thrown ball on 80.1 per cent of attempts. He achieved that feat while averaging more air yards per attempt (8.11) than both Lawrence and Wilson, yet there is reason for trepidation around thoughts of him progressing significantly in his second year.

Jones' passer rating on throws of 21 or more air yards was 65.4 – 31st among the 41 quarterbacks to attempt at least 10, illustrating the limited ceiling of a quarterback whose arm is not on the level of his fellow 2021 first-rounders.

Yet Jones does have the benefit of one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. After free agency, the Patriots' O-Line was tied for sixth in pass protection unit baseline and fifth in run blocking baseline.

They replaced guard Shaq Mason, who was surprisingly traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, by making the similarly eyebrow-raising move of selecting Chattanooga guard Cole Strange in the first round of the draft. Strange's arrival should solidify the interior of the line and allow the Patriots to stick to a formula of leaning on the run game to take the pressure off Jones.

New England's receiving corps is at best uninspiring and the Patriots' failure to address a depleted secondary may prohibit playoff aspirations, but the strength in the trenches means Jones is in a better position to achieve short-term success than most of his second-year contemporaries.

1. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are set to step into the unknown in 2021, with all signs pointing to Lance playing his first full season since his lone campaign as the starting quarterback at North Dakota State in 2019 despite Jimmy Garoppolo's continued presence on the roster.

Handing the keys to an offense that was in the NFC championship Game over to a quarterback with only two career starts to his name represents a substantial risk, but it is a risk the Niners are in an excellent position to take.

While there remains no sign of the impasse between San Francisco and All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel coming to an end, the Niners left free agency with a group of pass-catchers ranked sixth in the league in unit baseline. They added to that group in the draft by selecting SMU speedster Danny Gray in the third round.

San Francisco's pass defense was also in the top half of the league in that regard going into the draft, while its pass rush was third in unit baseline and could have an even higher ceiling in 2022 if Drake Jackson adapts quickly to the pros. The Niners' second-round pick registered a pressure rate of 24.2 that was the fifth-best among edge rushers in this draft class in 2021.

The Niners ranked in the top 10 in pass block win rate and seventh in run block win rate last season, yet their biggest issue may be maintaining that standard after losing left guard Laken Tomlinson to the Jets amid doubts over whether center Alex Mack would retire.

Lance could, therefore, be playing behind a largely inexperienced O-Line this coming season. However, the data from his small sample size last year hinted at him having what it takes to elevate those around him. He averaged 10.10 air yards per attempt – the second-most in the NFL – and no player to average at least 9.0 air yards had a better well-thrown percentage than Lance's 77.1.

His challenge will be to maintain that combination of aggression and accuracy over the course of a full season.

If the Niners can come to an understanding with Samuel, Lance will have one of the most versatile weapons in the NFL to help him build on those encouraging flashes. He'll also benefit from the support of a stout defense built on the strength of its front and a diverse running game that will likely grow even more varied with him under center.

The trump card for Lance is head coach Kyle Shanahan, who is arguably the pre-eminent offensive mind of the modern NFL. Between the talent on both sides of the ball and Shanahan's ability to draw up a running game and put receivers in space, the Niners are a high-floor, high ceiling team.

There may be doubts about Lance, but there should be no doubt he is the quarterback in the best situation to silence those concerns.

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