Mercedes' stunning streak of one-twos may have ended at the Monaco Grand Prix, but there looks to be no stopping defending Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton.

The Briton has finished each raceweek on the top two steps of the podium this season, recording his fourth win of 2019 in Monte Carlo to move 17 points clear in the drivers' championship.

Just six races into the campaign, Hamilton is already well on course for a third title in a row and the sixth of his career.

The 34-year-old is a dominant force in F1 and, given the gap to Ferrari this year, some fans might well wonder when this run will stop.

"I think it is more boring in a way, for sure," former Scuderia champion Jody Scheckter last week told Omnisport of the success of Hamilton and the Silver Arrows.

It is a common complaint - particularly on a track like Monaco's - that F1 races are dull and predictable, with Hamilton's talent and the Mercedes car certainly contributing factors.

But is that true? Or have the results disguised races that have often been chaotic.

There have not been shock wins like Pastor Maldonado's in Barcelona in the topsy-turvy start to the 2012 campaign, or Max Verstappen's breakthrough 2016 triumph in the same city, but there is still drama aplenty in 2019.

 

BAHRAIN ENGINE TROUBLE COSTS LECLERC

Charles Leclerc's misfortune has been one of the tales of the season and nowhere was it more evident than in Bahrain.

His Ferrari faltered with engine problems in the closing stages as he looked to be easing towards a first F1 victory, only hanging onto third and a place on the podium with the help of the safety car.

 

BOTTAS BEATS OUT HAMILTON IN BAKU

Leclerc's misery came in qualifying in Azerbaijan, as his phenomenal pace counted for little when he crashed out, again denting his hopes of a race win.

The Ferrari man managed to get back into the mix but, with Mercedes dominant early in the season, there was also excitement in the battle between team-mates Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton. With no team orders evident, the pair have been able to race one another in 2019 and did so from the off before Bottas prevailed.

SPAIN SEES MORE EARLY EXCITEMENT

Allowed to go wheel to wheel this year, Hamilton had seen Bottas edge in front in the drivers' championship early on. The Briton does not appear interested in playing a supporting role.

He again went after Bottas from the off in Barcelona and nudged ahead of his pole-sitting colleague at Turn 1 to set up victory. Given Mercedes' speed in qualifying, the early stretches of most races have thrilled.

 

MONACO POLE-SITTER HAMILTON HOLDS ON

Perhaps the race of the season so far came on Sunday at the usually cagey Monaco, with action throughout the grid.

Hamilton won from pole but had to hold off pressure from Verstappen, who actually ended up missing out on the podium due to a five-second time penalty as he clashed with Bottas in the pits. Meanwhile, Leclerc, at his home race, could not recover from Ferrari's qualifying mishap, spinning and then retiring. This certainly was not boring.

The 2019 World Cup could be the last in the storied career of MS Dhoni, whose time in the international game has been marked by his longevity and remarkable consistency.

Known as 'Captain Cool' during his time skippering India, Dhoni has compiled a resume that will secure his legacy as one of their greats. He was captain when India topped the Test rankings for the first time in 2009, unforgettably led them to 2011 World Cup glory on home soil and also lifted the T20 World Cup and Champions Trophy in 2007 and 2013 respectively.

He will not be skipper for their World Cup campaign in England. That responsibility has long since been handed over to Virat Kohli. However, a willingness to move Dhoni into a more prominent role in the batting line-up may be key to India's hopes of stopping the home nation, who are favourites to lift the trophy as they aim for an elusive triumph in a major ODI event.

The number four spot is an area of concern for India, with all-rounder Vijay Shankar currently an unpopular choice in the problem position.

Shankar has yet to score an ODI half-century in nine appearances, his highest score of 46 coming against Australia in Nagpur last month.

With no senior experience of batting on English surfaces, Shankar is undoubtedly a gamble, even if the decks are expected to be flatter than usual. A painful blow to his right forearm when facing left-arm paceman Khaleel Ahmed in the nets last Friday is unlikely to have done much for his confidence.

Shankar sat out the weekend warm-up game against New Zealand, where Kohli's men were walloped by six wickets with 12.5 overs to spare. KL Rahul batted at four in his absence and was bowled by Trent Boult for six.

Dhoni, vastly experienced in numerous positions throughout the line-up, would surely provide a safer option.

Largely deployed further down the order over recent years, Dhoni has often been tasked with getting India over the line or rescuing a situation, and he frequently excels at doing so. 

Indeed, Dhoni has 890 runs in 33 ODI innings at an average of 44.50 when batting at seven, but compare those numbers to his figures when he comes in second-wicket down - 1,358 runs at an average of 56.58 - and the case for him providing support to the top order grows stronger.

This is a World Cup filled with fearsome fast bowling attacks. England, Australia, South Africa and Pakistan all boast bowlers capable of producing searing pace, while in Tim Southee and Trent Boult New Zealand have a pair of seamers expertly adept at generating movement on English surfaces.

Combatting those attacks will be vital for India in a competition that has reverted back to a format last used in 1992. Only four teams progress from a 10-team group, in which all teams will face off once.

Dhoni could be vital to them doing so. He is extremely well versed in how to defy the world's best fast bowling units and, as the moniker he had during his time as captain suggests, has consistently showcased the composure to deliver in the biggest moments.

That calm in high-pressure situations may be of greater use at four, to provide better protection towards the top of a batting line-up set to be filled with World Cup debutants and more questions than answers in the middle and lower order.

Few players have given more to cricket in his country than Dhoni and he is deserving of a triumphant World Cup send-off. The best way for that come to pass is by putting more responsibility on the shoulders of one of India's most dedicated servants.

It has been 10 years since Barcelona seemingly changed European football forever with a stunning 2-0 Champions League final win over holders Manchester United.

Samuel Eto'o opened the scoring early on and Lionel Messi's 70th-minute header clinched a second Blaugrana triumph in four seasons.

This side were very different to the 2005-06 vintage, though, with new coach Pep Guardiola dictating an incredible passing style that quickly became the envy of their rivals.

"They get you on that carousel and can leave you dizzy."

That was Alex Ferguson's description of Barca's approach and here we take a look at the 11 starters who subjected United to that punishment in Rome - part of a historic treble.

 

VICTOR VALDES

Goalkeeper Valdes was perhaps not always given the credit he deserved for his ability as a shot-stopper - there were a couple of brave blocks from Cristiano Ronaldo in the final - but there was no doubting his reputation as a pioneer with the ball at his feet.

The Spaniard was key to the way Barca played as he offered an option to his defenders, continuing to contribute to the club's success until 2014 and then ending his career in England with United and Middlesbrough.

CARLES PUYOL

Just as Barca brought something different to the goalkeeping position, Dani Alves altered the full-back's role. He was absent for the final due to suspension, so captain Puyol moved across from centre-back and was similarly effective, marauding down the right.

Puyol scored a World Cup semi-final winner the following year and retired in 2014 having won just about every trophy imaginable.

YAYA TOURE

With Puyol out of position, Toure had to be too. Rafael Marquez was injured and the Ivory Coast midfielder was given an uncomfortable time by Ronaldo at centre-back.

But Toure prevailed and went on to become a Premier League great at Manchester City, winning the last of his three titles after being reunited with Guardiola in 2017-18.

GERARD PIQUE

A former United man, Pique kept Barca on terms early on with a brave block following a Ronaldo free-kick.

And despite having since got his hands on almost every piece of silverware the sport has to offer, some would argue Pique is still improving after a fine campaign in 2018-19 - even if this month's Champions League semi-final against Liverpool was a real low point.

SYLVINHO

Eric Abidal's absence compounded Barca's defensive worries ahead of the final, with veteran left-back Sylvinho turning out for the final time before he joined City.

A short stint in the Premier League, where he had previously played for Arsenal, saw the end of the Brazilian's playing days, but he is back in the spotlight now as the new head coach of Lyon.

SERGIO BUSQUETS

This was Busquets' breakthrough season and he has scarcely stopped winning since. A calmer influence than the more expansive Toure, he nailed down a position in the middle of the carousel.

Seen for many years as the least glamorous of Barca's midfield options, the club are now hoping to groom a long-term replacement in the form of €75million man Frenkie de Jong.

XAVI HERNANDEZ

This was a match that typified Xavi's brilliance. One of the greatest passers of all time, he created the second goal for Messi with a gorgeous lofted ball, having earlier struck the post with a 20-yard free-kick.

He took in a further two Champions League final triumphs, bowing out in the 2015 defeat of Juventus. He retired from playing with Al-Sadd this month.

ANDRES INIESTA

Iniesta's sensational strike at Chelsea took Barca to the final, where he again showed his wonderful blend of passing precision and untouchable dribbling.

A decisive World Cup final goal when Spain downed the Netherlands in 2010 followed and Iniesta, like Xavi and now Busquets, has proved extremely difficult for Barca to replace. A once-in-a-generation talent in any other Blaugrana generation.

LIONEL MESSI

Heading into the 2009 final, Messi had never played on such a stage - having missed out through injury three years earlier - and was coming off his first season with more than 20 LaLiga goals. A stunning header capped the triumph.

What has happened since requires little explanation. Messi has established himself as perhaps the greatest player of all time, with goals, assists, runs, passes and lots and lots of trophies.

SAMUEL ETO'O

Eto'o was the only player in this side to go on to win the trophy again the following year. Barca were up against it for 10 minutes until a glorious dart inside Nemanja Vidic opened space for a low finish.

A move to Inter followed and Eto'o triumphed again, playing a supporting role to Diego Milito as Jose Mourinho's men beat Bayern Munich 2-0, before touring Europe in the latter stages of his career. He now plays in Qatar.

THIERRY HENRY

Henry and Arsenal were beaten by Barca in the 2006 final and a move to Camp Nou was long mooted for the Premier League's standout player. It finally came in 2007, and he initially excelled on the left of Guardiola's front three.

But Pedro's emergence hastened his departure a year on from Rome and he ended his career with a successful stint at New York Red Bulls. This season's brief tenure in charge of former club Monaco will not be so fondly remembered.

Manchester United battered Barcelona for nine minutes, with Cristiano Ronaldo roving maniacally in apparent pursuit of some sort of Champions League final shots record.

It was time for Pep Guardiola to again make the switch that helped to destroy Real Madrid earlier that month: Lionel Messi inside to false nine – a long forgotten position his exquisite Barca team and mercurial forward were beginning to revive.

Samuel Eto'o shuffled from centre-forward to the right of the front three and duly opened the scoring. Messi belied his diminutive stature to net a wonderful second-half header and Barcelona unseated reigning European kings United 2-0, adding the most satisfying part of a historic 2008-09 treble.

Ten years on, the ripples from that captivating night at Rome's Stadio Olimpico can still be felt across modern football. For the outstanding coach and player of their generation, it was the night it became clear everything was possible.

Messi unleashed

The season that earned Messi the first of his five Ballons d'Or was undoubtedly a watershed moment in his career.

Prior to Guardiola's arrival the Argentinian kid with a fondness for pizza and fizzy drinks had suffered frequent injury problems. The 2008-09 campaign was the first where he appeared in more than 30 LaLiga matches.

It was also the first time he broke through 20 top-flight goals. Only twice in the intervening years has he failed to net more than 30.

Messi's game, as with all true greats, has continued to evolve. While he was the most dazzling cog in Guardiola's whirring 2008-09 machine, he now carries Barca on his slight shoulders to a greater degree than ever before.

It feels like heresy to suggest Messi might have become simply the latest "next Diego Maradona", a shimmering talent waylaid by injury and expectation. But that was a possibility 10 years ago.

The Champions League final against United coming hot on the heels of him inspiring a 6-2 routing of Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu demonstrated he was so much more. That he did it within Guardiola's intricate team structure was perhaps the most compelling element.

Messi looked like a superstar entirely at odds with the Galactico age. In that sense he was completely in tune with his coach.

Winning Romanticism

Guardiola's swift salvage job at Barcelona after success had turned to excess under Frank Rijkaard, primarily through giving a tranche of outstanding youngsters their head, is a well-worn tale.

However, the wider footballing landscape in which he prevailed was just as important in establishing the meticulous Catalan as this decade's foremost tactical influencer.

This was the age of 4-2-3-1 – power, pace, pragmatism and confirmation of an accepted basic truth. Flair and invention would always capture the imagination and maybe even win occasionally, but organisational and solidity were the foundation of major titles.

Bolt on a superstar signing or two in an era of ever-spiralling transfer fees and you satisfied both factions, or at least tried to. Real Madrid's "Zidanes y Pavones" model of combining hard-working local players with global superstar yielded mixed results.

The difference with Guardiola's La Masia graduates was his "Pavones" – the label given life by unremarkable Madrid defender Francisco Pavon, the unassuming face of the other side of the Galactico coin – included Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, players every bit as good as Zinedine Zidane.

Guardiola updated Johan Cruyff's Barcelona vision of slick passing and positional play with some of his own influences – namely tactical fundamentalists such as Marcelo Bielsa, Juan Manuel Lillo and Ricardo La Volpe, men romantically attached to their principles of how the game should be played, seemingly at the expense of major honours. Guardiola winning because of, and not despite, those virtues was revelatory.

It captured the imagination of fans everywhere, including some men with very deep pockets.

Petrol and ideas

Fast forward to Manchester City's domestic treble this season and the reaction in some quarters to Guardiola's latest masterpiece has been very different. He is the darling of the romantics no more.

Critics have expressed distaste that City's back-to-back Premier League points hauls of 100 and 98 come fuelled by an Abu Dhabi fortune, fearing their dominance to be a demonstration of a game broken beyond repair. This aspect of coverage seems to have troubled Guardiola, whose commitment to playing the "right" way – as Cruyff would see it – has always projected an element of football moralism.

Big finance and big success have long been easy bedfellows but the focus of City's spending – leaving aside its sources and any outcome of ongoing investigations – is significantly different because Guardiola was always their priority signing. His system suitably fitted out guaranteed success in a way that simply punting on the latest superstars would not.

Arsene Wenger's observation of City having "petrol and ideas" remains pertinent and the influence of the methods European football first fell for in Rome are easy to spot far beyond Manchester.

Bayern Munich, steeped in their own historically successful style, grabbed a piece of the action as Guardiola led them to three consecutive Bundesliga titles between 2013-14 and 2015-16. When he left Germany's top flight, his nearest rival was Borussia Dortmund's Thomas Tuchel. A disciple of the positional style, Tuchel is now trying to bring ideological focus to Paris Saint-Germain's own petrol.

Back at Barcelona, Gerard Pique this week dismissed suggestions that a dispiriting end to the season is in part down to a turn away from Guardiola's style.

The Champions League final will be contested by Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham – coaches who have come closer than most to finding the Guardiola antidote, but who similarly demonstrate the prime importance of a high-tempo, hard-working collective. Like Guardiola, they are the single most important people at their clubs. Real Madrid's mooted €500m spending spree on the biggest names looks a strangely dated approach by comparison.

Such cycles invariably come to an end, but for the foreseeable future football's course remains set by the magic Messi and his colleagues weaved so irresistibly 10 years ago.

Undimmed by the passage of time and present-day struggles at Old Trafford, Manchester United's 1999 treble remains the greatest single-season achievement in English club football history.

While Manchester City's current domestic dominance is one of towering points totals and smashed records, Alex Ferguson's finest hour was one built upon a death-or-glory knife edge.

From Birmingham to Barcelona via Turin, a United side packed with household names secured their legacy in unforgettable style.

To mark the 20th anniversary of a remarkable triumph, we look back at some of the signature wins in a campaign that came to define Ferguson's Old Trafford dynasty.

Manchester United 2 Liverpool 0 (Premier League, September 24)

Never mind three trophies, United were yet to claim three league wins by the time bitter rivals Liverpool arrived at Old Trafford in late September and Ferguson's men had been beaten 3-0 by reigning champions Arsenal four days earlier. Denis Irwin hammered in a 19th-minute penalty after fellow Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer was penalised for handball and Paul Scholes thrashed left-footed into the top corner 11 minutes from time to crown a trademark counter-attack. The victory launched a three-match winning streak – United were up and running.

Manchester United 2 Liverpool 1 (FA Cup fourth round, January 24)

Tottenham knocked a much-changed United out of the League Cup in December and Liverpool looked set to end their FA Cup ambitions after Michael Owen nodded in an early opener. Dwight Yorke converted Andy Cole's knockdown from a floated David Beckham free-kick to level in the 88th minute and, following some neat footwork from Scholes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pounced in stoppage-time – a theme we'll return to later.

Nottingham Forest 1 Manchester United 8 (Premier League, February 6)

Forest's day did not look like it could get much worse when Solskjaer trotted on to replace Yorke in the 71st minute, United already 4-1 to the good at the City Ground. The "Baby-Faced Assassin" duly pilfered four goals in the final 10 minutes of the contest as United clinically and mercilessly pulled their ill-equipped foes to pieces.

Manchester United's finest hour in the modern era saw them come from behind to beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the 1998-99 Champions League final and Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of that momentous day.

Alex Ferguson's United had an immensely difficult run en route to the final, having faced Bayern and Barcelona in the group stage, before then eliminating Inter and Juventus in the knockout phase.

Bayern – who faced rather more modest opposition in Kaiserslautern and Dynamo Kiev before the final – found themselves ahead after just six minutes, with Mario Basler's free-kick finding the bottom-right corner.

The Germans had the better of things and looked to be heading for the title, but in the first minute of stoppage time Teddy Sheringham turned Ryan Giggs' scuffed shot in from close range.

Two minutes later, United secured their remarkable turnaround – Sheringham nodded on a David Beckham corner and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prodded home the most famous goal in the club's history.

On the 20th anniversary, we've looked back at the teams on display that day and investigated what they are up to in 2019…

MANCHESTER UNITED

Peter Schmeichel

Since hanging up his gloves, Schmeichel has remained a prominent media personality, appearing as a pundit for many major broadcasters. In December he declared his interest in the director of football role at United, though nothing more has been heard on that front since.

Gary Neville

After a poor stint as Valencia coach came to abrupt end in 2016, Gary Neville returned to his role as a leading pundit on Sky Sports in England. He is also a part-owner – with fellow 'Class of '92' graduates Phil Neville, Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Beckham – of Salford City, a club who recently earned promotion to League Two.

Ronny Johnsen

Norwegian Johnsen has worked as a television pundit in his homeland, while he is also a United ambassador, often travelling to events around the globe and representing the club.

Jaap Stam

In his day, Stam was one of the finest centre-backs and he has also shown signs of promise as a coach. After being sacked by Reading last year, he returned to Netherlands and took over PEC Zwolle in December. He seemingly did enough in his first four months to convince Feyenoord, who announced in March that Stam will replace departing coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst in June.

Denis Irwin

One of the real unsung heroes of the treble-winning side, Irwin probably isn't considered as much of a 'great' as he should because of his quiet, unassuming nature. As such, perhaps it's no surprise he did not go into coaching, though he has made regular appearances on United's TV channel, worked for Irish broadcasters and written a column for a newspaper.

Ryan Giggs

A brief stint as interim manager of United after David Moyes was sacked in 2014 opened the door to Giggs' coaching career. He served as assistant to Louis van Gaal during his two-year spell as boss, before taking charge of Wales' senior side last year, which he juggles with his Salford responsibilities.

David Beckham

Given his celebrity-like off-field life as a player, it's probably no surprise Beckham never went into management. A philanthropist and investor, the former England star is more businessman than sportsman these days, though he is joint owner of Inter Miami, a club expected to play in MLS from 2020.

Nicky Butt

Having worked as a youth coach after halting his playing days, Butt was hired as the head of United's academy in 2016, overseeing the development of some talented players, such as James Garner, Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong.

Jesper Blomqvist

Another who has done a bit of TV work, but Blomqvist's post-football life is otherwise significantly different to many of his former colleagues – he now runs a pizzeria near Stockholm.

Dwight Yorke

Ambition certainly isn't something Yorke lacks, as he put himself forward for the Aston Villa job last October, though he was unsuccessful, probably because his only coaching experience was a stint as Trinidad and Tobago assistant manager a decade ago.

Andy Cole

Although Cole has trained to become a coach and briefly worked for Milton Keynes Dons, Huddersfield Town and United, that side of his career is yet to take off, partly down to health issues, having had to have a kidney transplant in April 2017.

Substitutes:

Teddy Sheringham

Great players don't always amount to top managers, which is surely relevant for Sheringham. The former striker was praised for his impact on West Ham's forwards during a stint as an attacking coach but lasted less than a year in his first management position at Stevenage. Similarly, he was in charge of Indian side ATK for six months last season before being sacked.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Introduced as a substitute who saved the day in 1999, Solskjaer finds himself in a comparable position 20 years later. After a successful interim period as Jose Mourinho's replacement, he was hired on a full-time basis as United manager in March, but poor results ever since have seen that decision called into question. Can he lead another turnaround at the club? Only time will tell.

 

BAYERN MUNICH

Oliver Kahn

One of the most iconic players – not just goalkeepers – of his generation, Kahn is also having a pretty successful 'retirement'. Still rocking his trademark blond locks, the 49-year-old is an entrepreneur and businessman, pundit and seemingly in line for a major backroom role at Bayern in the future, with reports suggesting he will take over as president once Uli Hoeness decides he has had enough.

Markus Babbel

Babbel's management career began brightly, as he presided over part of Stuttgart's Bundesliga title challenge in 2008-09. However, aside from a successful promotion campaign with Hertha Berlin two years later, there has been little to get excited about. Having also coached Hoffenheim and Luzern in Switzerland, the former defender made the switch to Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League last year. They finished the season eighth in the 10-team division.

Thomas Linke

Instead of coaching, Linke opted to pursue more management-based roles after ending his playing career. He briefly served as sporting director at RB Leipzig in 2011 before resigning for personal reasons. Later that year he joined Ingolstadt, and under his guidance the club earned promotion in 2014-15. Relegation two years later brought his resignation, but he returned in November for the rest of the season.

Lothar Matthaus

Coaching has seen Matthaus embark on an intriguing post-playing career, managing Rapid Vienna, Partizan Belgrade, Hungary, Atletico Paranaense, Red Bull Salzburg, Maccabi Netanya and Bulgaria. None of them were particularly successful, however, and he mostly seen working as a pundit on German television these days.

Sammy Kuffour

It is fair to say Kuffour's career since retiring has been rather less nomadic than Matthaus'. Media appearances in his native Ghana have been regular, while he is now on the Ghanaian Football Association's 'normalisation committee', having been appointed after FIFA disbanded their executive committee last year following allegations of misconduct.

Michael Tarnat

Tarnat returned to Bayern after retirement, becoming a talent scout and prominent academy coach for the best part of seven years. In 2017 he went back to another of his former clubs, Hannover, where he is the head of the youth development side of things.

Stefan Effenberg

Known for his on-field aggression, Effenberg is – perhaps predictably – somewhat infamous for his controversial opinions and brutal honesty as a pundit and columnist. His only venture in management came in 2015-16 with Paderborn, but he was sacked after only five months at the helm. The former midfielder is also a banker.

Jens Jeremies

Battling midfielder Jeremies opted against taking his terrier-like attitude into management or coaching. Instead, he has worked as a player agent and run his own charity.

Mario Basler

As a player, Basler was as divisive as they come. Rarely shy about his penchant for drinking and smoking, he seemed to fall out with almost everyone. Judging by that reputations, his new career as a stand-up comedian is seemingly rather more suitable to him than management, which he had little success with.

Carsten Jancker

After learning his trade with SC Neusiedl and Rapid Vienna, Jancker took his first head coach job at SV Horn, another Austrian club, in June 2017. Nevertheless, he was dismissed in November last year and is yet to take up another position elsewhere.

Alexander Zickler

Like his former strike partner, Zickler went to Austria to cut his teeth in the coaching field, working at Red Bull Salzburg for seven years. That stay is set to come to an end soon, as the former Germany international is to follow the club's first-team coach Marco Rose to Borussia Monchengladbach.

Substitutes:

Mehmet Scholl

Bayern icon Scholl spent the first few years post-retirement working with the club's youth teams and reserve side, with whom he enjoyed two spells. But, since quitting in 2013, he has been focusing on punditry and media work.

Thorsten Fink

A fairly prominent management career followed Fink's playing days, with Ingolstadt, Basel, Hamburg and APOEL among those he has managed. His most recent job was at Grasshoppers Zurich, but that ended poorly as he was sacked in March and Switzerland's most successful club were ultimately relegated at the end of the season.

Hasan Salihamidzic

Salihamidzic is once again an important figure at Bayern. The former winger is now sporting director and has been praised in recent times for his work in that domain, with the club particularly looking towards younger players.

Thomas Tuchel and Paris Saint-Germain might have ended the season with a dismal run of form, but their 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign was still mightily impressive.

The capital club wrapped up the title more than a month before Friday's last fixture at Reims, finishing 16 points clear of second-placed Lille.

And given PSG's failings in the Champions League and both domestic cup competitions, it appears it was their Ligue 1 displays that convinced the club to extend Tuchel's contract until June 2021 on Saturday.

Using Opta data, it is clear to see why the board would be impressed, too, even allowing for the late-season run of three wins in 10 matches across all competitions.

Tuchel won 76.3 per cent of his league matches this term, recording 2.39 points per game - the best returns of any first-year coach in the Qatar Sports Investments era.

The class of 2018-19 also recorded 2.76 goals per game and became the first Ligue 1 team to score in every match of a 38-round season.

More will be expected of Tuchel in years two and three, but he has put together a first campaign that outperforms predecessors Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and Unai Emery.

 

CARLO ANCELOTTI

Ancelotti was the Qatari owners' maiden appointment midway through the 2011-12 season but fell short in a bid for the club's first title in 18 years. Top when the Italian took over, PSG subsequently won 57.9 per cent of their matches and earned 2.05 points per game, finishing three points behind champions Montpellier.

But Ancelotti started to turn PSG into the club they are today in 2012-13. They claimed the Ligue 1 title and reached the Champions League quarter-finals.

 

LAURENT BLANC

Blanc has not had a job since leaving PSG, yet he established the club as a truly dominant force during three years in charge that returned three league titles, two Coupe de France triumphs and three in the Coupe de la Ligue.

The standards were high in his first season - winning 71.1 per cent of league matches, earning 2.34 points per game and scoring 2.21 goals per game - but he did not reach Tuchel's levels.

UNAI EMERY

It might have been plain sailing for Blanc when he arrived at the Parc des Princes, but Emery's first year provided a reminder of the difficulties of this job and the expectations that come with it.

PSG came second to a brilliant Monaco outfit in 2016-17, even though Emery actually matched Blanc's win percentage. Their 2.29 points per game - more than Ancelotti's PSG averaged over his whole tenure - were not enough to defend the title.

Frustrations might have boiled over in recent weeks, but Tuchel's early Ligue 1 success should not be taken for granted.

The Toronto Raptors are headed to their first NBA Finals after overcoming the Milwaukee Bucks.

Toronto's 100-94 Game 6 win over the Bucks on Saturday secured their move to the biggest stage, where the Golden State Warriors await.

Here are three takeaways from the Raptors' historic win.

 

The "others" made all the difference

Toronto's bench outscored Milwaukee's in three consecutive games during their four-game winning streak in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Raptors got valuable contributions from a variety of role players throughout the series. Among them were Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka.

The Bucks did not have the luxury of a new face showing up each game, and it led to their downfall.

Kawhi Leonard's will to win is unrivalled

Leonard did everything possible to elevate his team's play against the Bucks. 

The Raptors superstar finished with a game-high 27 points on nine-of-22 shooting, but also grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds – 12 more than any of his team-mates.

Leonard logged 41 minutes and carried his team through critical moments down the stretch, like he has all postseason.

One of his more notable plays was a poster dunk on defensive player of the year candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks' free-throw struggles came back to bite them again

Toronto's crowd seemed to have a serious effect on Milwaukee at the line.

The Bucks fell short by six points and left nine at the charity stripe. Antetokounmpo clanged five of his 10 attempts which clearly changed the outcome of the game.

But you have to give credit to the Raptors for their swarming defensive tactics and aggressiveness, forcing their opponents to earn their scoring the hard way in Scotiabank Arena.

Thomas Tuchel's new contract does not hide the fact his maiden Paris Saint-Germain campaign went worryingly flat after a promising start.

A 3-1 defeat at Reims on Friday capped off a disappointing end to the season, with PSG winning just four of their last 10 fixtures.

They had the title secured on April 22, with a blistering start to the term having seen them win a record 14 Ligue 1 games in a row from the start of a campaign.

A shock Coupe de la Ligue defeat to Guingamp ended PSG's hopes of domestic dominance, though, before they slumped out of the Champions League in the round of 16, losing to Manchester United on home soil.

And, having extended his stay at the Parc des Princes until 2021, Tuchel now has plenty to work on heading into his second season.

 

ADD DEPTH TO AN IMBALANCED SQUAD

PSG have plenty of attacking talents but when it comes to other areas of the pitch they are not so well stocked.

Tuchel wanted Everton's holding midfielder Idrissa Gueye in January, though the Premier League club refused to sell. Leandro Paredes did come in but has at times looked out of step with his team-mates and made a calamitous error to gift Montpellier a victory in April. Dani Alves has far too often been called upon to fill in centrally.

With Adrien Rabiot - who has refused the offer of a new contract - oh his way out and Marco Verratti not unaccustomed to injury, though he has made 26 Ligue 1 appearances this term, midfield is certainly an area that needs addressing. In defence, Tuchel has publicly suggested he can only rely on Marquinhos and 34-year-old Thiago Silva to keep things steady at the back.

KEEP NEYMAR FIT AND HAPPY

PSG paid a world-record fee for Neymar in order to propel themselves to Champions League glory. So far, it has not worked.

In both of his seasons at the club, Neymar, who is off track in his Ballon d'Or aims, has sustained injuries that have seen him miss either all or part of PSG's last-16 ties with Real Madrid and Manchester United respectively, and as such it is no surprise that they have failed to progress past this stage.

Their play is rightly directed through the Brazil superstar, but perhaps Tuchel must now look at having a viable alternative so, if needed, he can protect his star man in certain games to ensure he is in good shape for the big occasions and, along with PSG's other key players, able to play across an entire season, while also ensuring that Neymar remains at Parc des Princes amid rumours of interest from Madrid.

KYLIAN IS THE KEY

Another PSG star reportedly interesting Los Blancos is Kylian Mbappe, the World-Cup winning striker who scored 33 league goals this season. At 20, the former Monaco forward undoubtedly has the world at his feet, though hinted recently that he may have to take up a new challenge away from PSG.

The club swiftly insisted there is no chance of a sale and Tuchel should look to build his team around the youngster. His disciplinary issues - a red card in the Coupe de France final saw Mbappe suspended for three matches and was his second such offence of the season - need tempering but he should remain a focal point.

HELP KIMPEMBE RETURN TO FORM

Tuchel was not renowned for his defensive resilience while head coach at Borussia Dortmund but inherited one of the most promising defenders in European football when he took over at PSG in the form of Presnel Kimpembe.

The 23-year-old featured once for France at the 2018 World Cup but has struggled to kick on this campaign, and his season finished with him undergoing surgery to fix a groin problem.

Tuchel has suggested that Kimpembe has played too many games - he made 36 appearances across all competitions - but his suggestion that he could only rely on Marquinhos and Silva was not exactly an endorsement of Kimpembe, who seems to have hit a wall.

SETTLE ON A GOALKEEPER

Tuchel has switched far too much between Alphonse Areola and Gianluigi Buffon, with 21 and 17 appearances each in the league.

At 41, it is probably time Buffon acted only as back up - if he is to remain at the club - with his poor performance against Reims on Friday suggesting his best days are behind him.

Areola, who along with Kimpembe was allegedly accused by Neymar of disrespecting the head coach, is also prone to an error, while Kevin Trapp is due to return from his loan at Eintracht Frankfurt. Tuchel has to decide which of the three is to be his first choice, or whether he needs to dip into the transfer market for another number one.

Naomi Osaka will be aiming to emulate a feat only a magnificent seven women have achieved in the Open Era when the world number one goes in search of a maiden French Open title.

Osaka became the first female player since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to win her first two grand slam titles back-to-back when she followed up her US Open triumph by winning the Australian Open in January.

The Japanese sensation arrived in Paris eyeing what would be an incredible third consecutive major triumph.

Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis and Serena Williams are the only other women to have won three in a row in the Open Era.

We take a look at how they accomplished those glorious trebles.

 

MARGARET COURT

Court won three majors on the bounce before the Open Era began in 1968.

The legendary Australian started the new era with 13 grand slam titles under her belt and continued to dominate. She pulled off a clean sweep in 1970 after being crowned US Open champion the previous year and added an astonishing sixth straight at the 1971 Australian Open.

 

BILLIE JEAN KING

King ended the amateur era by winning a third grand slam championship on the spin and she was by no means finished there.

The American great won three in a row in a glorious 1972, taking on all comers at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

 

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA

Navratilova was the holder of every grand slam title when she won the Australian Open for a third time in 1985.

That came after she won in Paris, Wimbledon and at Flushing Meadows in a stellar 1984 season.

 

STEFFI GRAF

Graf was in a class of her own in 1988, completing a sensational calendar Grand Slam after winning her first major at the French Open the previous year.

The German's Australian Open victory in 1990 was also her third grand slam success in a row and she again held every major simultaneously after triumphing at Melbourne Park in 1994. She also won three in succession in 1995 and 1996.

 

MONICA SELES

Seles' run of three grand slams on the bounce was spread over two seasons, starting at the US Open in 1991 and ending at Roland Garros the following year.

She won three out of four in 1991 and 1992, with Graf denying her a calendar Grand Slam by winning Wimbledon in both of those years.

 

MARTINA HINGIS

Swiss star Hingis won her first grand slam at the 1997 Australian Open and the French Open was the only major she missed out in that magnificent season.

She started 1998 by retaining her title in Melbourne - a third major in a row - and claimed a fifth and final grand slam crown in Australia the following year.

 

SERENA WILLIAMS

Williams dominated in 2002 after Capriati won the Australian Open, with the American superstar claiming the other three majors before being victorious in Melbourne for the first time in 2003.

She also had all of the big four tennis titles in her grasp in 2015 after winning Wimbledon, before adding major number 23 in Australia two years later.

Three semi-final defeats and an ATP Masters 1000 title would represent a handsome return from the clay courts for most players heading into the French Open.

But Rafael Nadal is the 'King of Clay', an 11-time Roland Garros champion, and might understandably hold himself to a higher standard.

The Spaniard has lost just twice at the second major of the year in his entire career. He is used to dominating at this time of the season.

Putting Nadal's achievements on the red dirt into context, Simona Halep, the women's defending champion, this week dismissed the idea they could ever be replicated on the WTA Tour.

"I don't see that. Never, ever," she told Omnisport, speaking courtesy of Hublot. "That is unique."

Consequently, failure to collect the Internazionali d'Italia title last week would have represented a crisis of sorts for the world number two.

Nadal had never previously headed to the French Open without a title on clay in the months prior, meaning a trio of last-four losses this year suddenly left him looking vulnerable.

Novak Djokovic was cast aside in Rome, but questions over whether this remains the same supreme Nadal of years gone may linger for some.

But what factors could see Roland Garros' greatest ever champion dethroned?

 

NADAL'S FORM

Nadal's first three clay-court tournaments of 2019 went the same way, starting with what he branded "one of the worst matches" he had ever played on the surface as he lost to Fabio Fognini in straight sets at the Monte Carlo Masters.

The Spaniard was then stunned by the sensational Dominic Thiem at the Barcelona Open, while Stefanos Tsitsipas came up with a huge performance at the Madrid Open.

Nadal belatedly beat a top-20 player on the red dirt for the first time this season in Rome, overcoming Nikoloz Basilashvili and Tsitsipas before downing Djokovic for his first ATP Tour title of the year.

NADAL'S FITNESS

Besides the return to form in Italy, the good news for Nadal in recent months has been the absence of injuries.

The 32-year-old withdrew from the Indian Wells Masters in March due to a knee complaint, continuing a concerning trend of pulling out of high-profile hard-court tournaments in 2018.

Nadal has since completed four consecutive events and has perhaps simply been building his fitness.

 

THE CHALLENGERS

If Nadal is on the wane, there are no shortage of up-and-comers ready to take his place. None of his defeats this year have been flukes, although Fognini remains hugely unpredictable.

Thiem has now beaten Nadal on clay in four consecutive seasons, while Tsitsipas, still just 20, looks to be at the beginning of a career at the very top of the sport.

Elsewhere, Alexander Zverev has not faced Nadal this year but has two clay Masters titles to his name. There are now threats beyond Djokovic and Roger Federer, or the absent Andy Murray.

Being one of the greatest players in the history of tennis brings with it consistently high expectations.

Roger Federer's 20 major titles are unparalleled in the men's game, as are his cumulative 310 weeks spent at the top of the rankings – 237 of which came in succession from February 2, 2004 until August 17, 2008.

The Swiss, now 37 and wise to the impact the rigours of the Tour has on his ageing body, has managed his schedule in recent seasons to enable him to continue competing at the extraordinary levels he set after winning his first grand slam 16 years ago.

He branded taking part at Roland Garros in 2016 an "unnecessary fitness risk" as he struggled with knee and back problems and, never hiding his preference for grass and hard courts, he has not returned until now.

His decision to skip the clay-court swing in 2017 paid dividends in the form of a record eighth Wimbledon title, but after a surprise fourth-round loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas at this year's Australian Open Federer confirmed he would finally be back playing on clay.

"I'm in a phase where I want to have fun. It's a bit of desire. I don't feel it is necessary to have a big break again," said Federer at Melbourne Park.

Fun is exactly what Federer can have at the French Open this year.

Rafael Nadal's dominance of the tournament – the 'King of Clay' is gunning for his 12th title at Roland Garros this year – and Novak Djokovic's incredible resurgence, which could see him hold all four grand slams at the same time for the second time in his career, means they are the overwhelming favourites for success.

For once, Federer, who returns on the 10-year anniversary of the first and only time he got his hands on La Coupe des Mousquetaires, goes into a major without the pressure to succeed that typically accompanies an all-time great.

Clay-court specialist Dominic Thiem and Tsitsipas are favoured more than Federer - who is in the same side of the draw as Nadal - by many bookmakers, while Alexander Zverev is considered to have a similar chance of success as the Swiss.

His odds were unlikely to be helped by a right leg injury that forced him to withdraw from an Internazionali d'Italia quarter-final against Tsitsipas, but Federer had to play two matches in a day 24 hours prior, the second of which went to a third-set tie-break against Borna Coric.

Asked if he can win the French Open, Federer replied: "I don't know. [It's] a bit of a question mark for me. In some ways I feel similar to the Australian Open in 2017 - a bit of the unknown.

"I feel like I'm playing good tennis, but is it enough or is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I'm not sure if it's in my racket.

"But I hope I can get myself in that position deep down in the tournament against the top guys."

On his condition, he added: "Being healthy is really key at this stage of my career, and the last time I have been really badly injured has been basically Montreal two years ago almost.

"I'm very happy [with] how my body has been. There has always been little things going on, like in Rome, but that was also precautionary. I wanted to make sure I was 100 per cent going to be able to play the French Open."

While another icon of the sport Serena Williams continues to struggle with the stresses of matching Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 grand slam titles, Federer arrives at Roland Garros in an environment where he has no such burdens to contend with.

The stage is set for Federer to play with freedom and in an impressive physical state. Regardless of the outcome, his desire for fun will no doubt be satisfied in Paris.

Manchester City's 2018-19 season concluded with players celebrating on the Wembley turf last weekend, just like it did 20 years previously.

The parallels end there.

While Pep Guardiola's all-conquering domestic treble winners spent the campaign pushing to higher levels of excellence, their counterparts from two decades ago often threatened to chart new depths of farce - or "Cityitis", as then manager Joe Royle termed it.

Treble fever also hit Manchester in 1999, but for United and Alex Ferguson, who famously added a last-gasp injury-time triumph in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich to Premier League and FA Cup glory.

Meanwhile, City were grappling with life in Division Two – the third tier of English football – for the first time in their history.

"It is unthinkable now but it was only 20 years ago, a generation ago," said Nicky Weaver, the former England Under-21 goalkeeper who would end his breakthrough campaign in 1998-99 as City's saviour. "They're at Wembley every other week now."

"It was my first season playing, so for me it was just a thrill to be involved in it all. The fans probably didn't think so, going to places like York and Colchester and Lincoln and Macclesfield and places like that.

"It took us four or five months to get into our stride. I think everyone thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was."

City had been in the Premier League as recently as 1996 but two relegations in three seasons sapped morale at their tired former home of Maine Road.

A 3-0 win over Blackpool on the opening day of the season proved a false dawn as a bloated and ill-equipped squad slogged away with mixed results. Across town, United were heading for the footballing stratosphere.

A December loss at York City left Royle's pre-season promotion favourites 12th in the table and in danger of slipping into oblivion. However, no-nonsense captain Andy Morrison came in to add some steel to the backline and the corner was turned in the nick of time.

"I remember going to Wrexham on Boxing Day," Weaver said, of a game when Dutch defender Gerard Wiekens scored the only goal for City. "Ian Rush was playing for Wrexham. That was a big thing for me at the time, playing against someone like Ian Rush.

"We won 1-0 and then we beat Stoke at Maine Road and went on a really good run."

Regular goals from Shaun Goater, wing wizardry from United loanee Terry Cooke and Weaver's increasingly sharp keeping were all factors as Royle's men stormed up to third.

Automatic promotion proved out of their reach but, after a tense semi-final against Wigan Athletic was negotiated 2-1 on aggregate, Wembley – of the twin towers vintage - awaited.

Tony Pulis' Gillingham were betting outsiders but ‘Cityitis’ struck again as Carl Asaba and Robert Taylor beat Weaver with late goals. It was 2-0 heading into the final minute of the 90 and many of the Manchester contingent were heading for the exits when Kevin Horlock lashed in an apparent consolation.

Then came some hope from the touchline.

"I always thought the biggest thing was the five minutes of injury time. That was a little bit dubious," Weaver chuckled.

"Mark Halsey [referee] is a very popular man in these parts! I've got images of Tony Pulis going mad on the bench."

If Pulis was going mad there was full-scale pandemonium in the City end shortly afterwards when Paul Dickov steered a finish past a familiar face in Vince Bartram, best man at the City striker's wedding, in the Gillingham goal – an 'Aguero moment' before such a thing existed.

Extra time passed without incident before Weaver took the virtue of inexperience into the penalty shoot-out.

"I don't think I'd even been in one in a school tournament," he said. "Nowadays, you look at where the last few penalties have been, you have all the information and statistics.

"There was none of that then. I just thought, 'make yourself look as big as you can, pick a way and go that way'.

The method worked as Weaver thwarted Paul Smith, while Adrian Pennock blazed high and wide. Successes from Horlock, Cooke and - despite not having a senior goal to his name - Richard Edghill meant Guy Butters had to beat Weaver, or City were up and out of the abyss.

"He hit it well enough. It wasn't right in the corner but he got plenty of power on it," the goalkeeper recalled.

"Fortunately, I managed to get two hands on it. I waved the lads over and sort of pulled a face. I don't know where that came from."

Weaver's delirious celebration – halted only by a typically robust intervention from Morrison – is still fondly remembered by City supporters to this day, despite their vastly altered reality.

"If City had just been a mediocre Premier League club now, no-one would talk about it as much as they do, but the fact of where they are and where they have come from, it just makes the story so much bigger and so much better," Weaver said.

"If we hadn't done it, who knows what would have happened? It certainly wouldn't have been any easier.

"The new stadium followed a few years later, and then obviously the big investment came after that. If the stadium hadn't come, the investment might not have come and we might not have been sat here."

For all that Guardiola's unprecedented success is rooted in meticulous attention to detail, it owes a significant debt to the guess work of an unassuming terrace hero.

It started with that rarest of sights: a Juan Mata header.

David Villa and David Silva combined down the left, the latter picked out a perfect cross - of course - and Mata supplied the finish, committing every bit of his five-foot-seven-inch frame to an awkward nodding of the ball beyond Oscar Ustari.

This was four minutes into the 2008 Copa del Rey final against Getafe, a game Valencia went on to win 3-1. It remains their only trophy since 2004, when they claimed LaLiga, the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup and threatened to become one of Spain's dominant forces. It was the first title in the club careers of Mata and Silva, and the third for Villa, those three precociously talented forwards leading a mismatched unit of players who had either survived the heady days of four years earlier or were brought in to patch up holes in the squad by one of five different head coaches.

And yet, this was not a successful season. Ronald Koeman was sacked two weeks later after they were battered 5-1 by Athletic Bilbao, and they went on to finish 10th in LaLiga, 34 points behind champions Real Madrid. The Copa final, then, was little more than a reprieve from the poor results, the uncertain club management, the concerns about rising debt levels and the unfinished new stadium, an all-too visual reminder of their institutional problems. Within the next three years, Mata, Villa and Silva were all gone.

But Valencia are back in the Copa del Rey final again. Barcelona are the opponents - the team they beat in the two-legged semi-final 11 years ago. And this time, it doesn't feel like a distraction from greater concerns. This time, it feels very much part of the big picture, that there is something on the horizon; that there is even a horizon at all.

"Valencia used to be a very nervy club and they'd go through lots of coaches and sporting directors," Koeman recently told Marca. "A club that isn't calm and has so many changes isn't going to win much.

"Now, things seem to be calmer and they have an experienced coach that gives everyone a job and gets results. This is very important. In my time, we never had the necessary calmness, and this was reflected on the pitch."

Valencia's story in 2018-19 has been typically eventful. They started the league season without a win in six and failed to get out of the Champions League group stage, despite a home victory over Manchester United. At the halfway stage in LaLiga, they were 10th, 10 points off the top four and only four clear of relegation. "I've genuinely never seen anything like this," said coach Marcelino, aghast at a run of bad results and even worse luck that seemingly had him on the brink of the sack.

The Valencia of 11 years ago would almost certainly have fired him. Maybe even two or three seasons back, in the early part of Peter Lim's ownership of the club, the wells of patience would have run dry quickly. But not this time. Not this season. 

"In other circumstances, they could have got rid of the boss," said captain Dani Parejo in January. "There's a stability now and the club knows where it's going. Coaches aren't working with the idea that 'Maybe they'll get rid of me tomorrow' any more. And you can feel that."

They did feel it. Eleven wins and three defeats from their final 19 league games propelled them back into the top four at just the right moment, vindicating faith in Marcelino. Off the pitch, the club celebrated its centenary, a strong commercial programme helping to engage fans who months previously had been furiously brandishing those infamous white hankies. Their operating budget is now said to be the fourth highest in the division, and a sale of the stadium land was agreed in April, meaning the half-built Nou Mestalla could, at long last, be completed in the coming seasons.

"This weekend is an opportunity for Valencia to drive home the message – both in Spain and around the world – that, win or lose, Valencia CF is back and ready to compete with the best of the best," the club said on Friday in a review of their remarkable season. Like a Juan Mata headed goal, that's something that would have been hard to believe when that final got underway 11 years ago.

Barcelona are aiming for a record fifth successive Copa del Rey triumph on Saturday when they face Valencia, with the Catalans' recent dominance in the competition seeing them reach the final sixth times in a row.

If Ernesto Valverde's men complete the feat, they will certainly have done it the hard way, as they have had to get past Real Madrid and Sevilla en route to the final and will now face a Valencia side who finished fourth in LaLiga.

The pressure is on, however. Barca disappointed supporters by failing to reach the Champions League final, despite beating Liverpool 3-0 in the semi-final first leg, and some are calling for Valverde to lose his job.

Winning only LaLiga when a treble looked extremely likely just a few weeks ago could potentially spell doom for the head coach, but the omens are good for Barca, as their previous five finals have shown…

2013-14: Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona

Having seen LaLiga and the Champions League move out of reach in the build-up, Barca – and specifically coach Gerardo Martino – needed a victory in the 2013-14 final. Things got off to a bad start when Angel Di Maria opened the scoring after a good move in the 11th minute. Marc Bartra levelled with a powerful second-half header, but Gareth Bale clinched the first piece of silverware of his career with a spectacular late solo winner, consigning Barca to their first trophyless season since 2008, which cost Martino his job.

2014-15: Athletic Bilbao 1-3 Barcelona

If 2013-14 was a failure, the following season was the complete opposite. Having already wrapped up the league title, Barca cruised to victory in the Copa, giving club great Xavi the ideal final Camp Nou outing. The magnificent Lionel Messi starred, opening the scoring with a marvellous solo effort, before Neymar rounded off a flowing move for 2-0. Their Argentinian talisman ended Athletic's chances towards the end, with Inaki Williams' goal a mere consolation. Barca then went on to complete a treble with a 3-1 win over Juventus in the Champions League final.

2015-16: Barcelona 2-0 Sevilla (AET)

Fresh from beating Liverpool in the Europa League final, Sevilla were eager to upset another European giant. Barca were not helped by Javier Mascherano's dismissal for hauling down Kevin Gameiro in the first half, but they ended up managing the rest of the regulation 90 minutes fairly well and the numbers were evened up late on when Ever Banega was sent off. Barca simply had too much for Sevilla in extra time, as Jordi Alba and then Neymar got the goals, while Daniel Carrico was shown the game's third red card.

2016-17: Barcelona 3-1 Deportivo Alaves

A first ever Copa final for Alaves promised little given who they were up against. A Theo Hernandez free-kick offered them a measure of hope just after Messi's 30th-minute opener, but Barca ultimately had things wrapped by half-time, with Neymar and Paco Alcacer putting the game beyond Mauricio Pellegrino's men. Having missed out on the league title, Copa success at least meant Barca did not end the campaign empty-handed, with Luis Enrique leaving his post shortly after.

2017-18: Sevilla 0-5 Barcelona

While Barca's Copa tussle with Sevilla in 2016 was a gripping encounter, last season's meeting showed an alarming gulf. Andres Iniesta starred in what proved to be his last final for the club, scoring the fourth goal, but victory was effectively secured by half-time given a Luis Suarez double and a solitary Messi effort had them 3-0 up at the interval. Philippe Coutinho's penalty finished things off, as Barca went on to seal a domestic double, while Sevilla sacked Montella a week later.

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