Liverpool were set to emerge at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, either with the scent of triumph in their nostrils or the delicious addition of a guard of honour from Manchester City.

The coronavirus pandemic has placed elite sport across the globe on hold, meaning the latest episode of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp's captivating rivalry must wait.

Nevertheless, given their former employers Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were also due to meet in Der Klassiker, it feels like a good time to run the rule over two men whose tactical approaches and high levels of achievement have – and it does not feel too grandiose to suggest this – changed football in the 21st century, as well as one another.

THE BUNDESLIGA YEARS

Guardiola's arrival to take the reins of a treble-winning Bayern for 2013-14 came shortly after their rivalry with Klopp's Dortmund reached its peak.

Arjen Robben's 89th-minute winner saw Bayern down BVB 2-1 in the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley – a game played out against a backdrop of Dortmund's star playmaker Mario Gotze agreeing terms to move to Bavaria.

In hindsight, Klopp's gegenpressing machine – winners of back-to-back Bundesliga crowns in 2010-11 and 2011-12 – were coming off the top of their curve, having finished 25 points behind a relentless Bayern domestically that season.

The decline continued over the next two seasons. Dortmund were remarkably in relegation trouble halfway through 2014-15, before a post-Christmas recovery preceded Klopp's emotional farewell.

Nevertheless, there was still time for telling blows to be landed. Guardiola's first competitive game in charge saw Bayern beaten 4-2 in the 2013 DFL-Supercup at a delirious Signal Iduna Park.

Stung by that loss, Guardiola sprung a notable surprise in the first league encounter between the sides that November, where he broke Dortmund's rabid press by playing Javi Martinez as an attacking midfielder and repeatedly targeting the rangy Spain international with long balls.

The high priest of tiki-taka (a label Guardiola famously loathes) had presided over "more long balls than in the last three years combined" from a Bayern team, according to Klopp, who bristled after Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller added to Gotze's inevitable second-half opener in a 3-0 win.

A depleted Munich were similarly reactive when they won the DFB-Pokal final 2-0 in extra-time, even if flooding midfield numbers was a more recognisably Guardiola tactic.

Diverting from his dizzying 4-3-3 of swirling triangles has remained something the Catalan tactician has frequently done across his meetings with Klopp, and not always with the success he enjoyed in Germany.

HOLLOW VICTORIES AND THE PHONEY WAR

Klopp ended his homeland head-to-head against Guardiola with three victories, making it back-to-back Supercup triumphs in 2014, having claimed a 3-0 Bundesliga result at Allianz Arena earlier that year – the authority of which was dimmed by the fact Bayern had already cantered to the title.

Guardiola had four victories to his name, with one draw ultimately falling in Dortmund's favour as Bayern failed with all four of their penalty attempts in a 2015 DFB-Pokal semi-final shoot-out.

However, Klopp was denied a glorious farewell as his team lost in the final to Wolfsburg and the fact Robert Lewandowski had followed Gotze to Munich by this point underlined a deck stacked against him.

Liverpool came calling for Klopp in October 2015 and he helmed helter-skelter runs to the EFL Cup and Europa League finals. Manchester City and Sevilla prevailed respectively.

That was Manuel Pellegrini's final honour as City boss as he made way for Guardiola, who collected a third successive Bundesliga title in 2015-16. Thomas Tuchel's Dortmund finished closer in terms of position and points (second, 10 behind) than Klopp's version had managed when in direct competition.

With the stage presumably set for renewed hostilities between Guardiola and incoming Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, the similarly newly installed Antonio Conte did not read the script as Chelsea romped to 2016-17 Premier League glory.

Klopp got the better of his head-to-heads with City as a Georginio Wijnaldum goal sealed a 1-0 New Year's Eve win at Anfield before Sergio Aguero rescued a point for the hosts in the return game.

Guardiola laid it on thick after that 1-1 draw, declaring it to be "one of the most special days of my life".

"He is Spanish. They are a little bit more emotional than the Germans," Klopp chuckled in response.

TON-UP BUT NOT INVINCIBLE AND THE ROAD TO KIEV

Liverpool beat City three times in 2017-18, when most other teams could barely lay a glove on Guardiola's record-breaking side.

But the game where City prevailed, an unusual 5-0 thrashing at the Etihad Stadium where Liverpool subsided meekly after Sadio Mane's red card for clattering Ederson with a high boot, arguably had the biggest influence on the campaign.

When that game was 11 v 11, Guardiola's back three was horribly exposed. Aguero's opener arrived against the run of play, with an unusually wasteful Mohamed Salah having tormented Nicolas Otamendi.

City never used 3-5-2 in the league again that season, reverting to a swashbuckling 4-3-3 that churned out 19 consecutive wins and made the second half of the schedule a virtual procession.

Liverpool halted their designs on invincibility however, claiming a raucous 4-3 Anfield win in January. Klopp hailed "pressing from another planet" by his front three as Roberto Firmino, Mane and Salah were all on target in a euphoric nine-minute spell after half-time.

Guardiola had again seen a swift avalanche of goals bring the roof in during a big match and his tweak to a 4-4-2 diamond, eyeing avenues around those Liverpool pressing lanes, backfired in that season's Champions League quarter-final.

A 3-0 first-leg loss at Anfield, with all the goals arriving during the first half, left City with a mountain to climb and a death-or-glory approach in the return fixture – deploying a formation probably best described as 3-CHARGE!!! – eventually ran out of steam in a 2-1 loss.

But it was Liverpool who came up short in the Kiev final on Loris Karius' nightmare outing against Real Madrid, while City sauntered to a 100-point haul as dominant Premier League champions. Sitting 25 points back in fourth, the Reds had a considerable gap to bridge.

CHASING PERFECTION

Despite that deficit, their efforts in going blow-for-blow with City over 90-minute periods left the impression Liverpool were the best placed of the pretenders to overthrow the champions.

Both teams reconvened on Merseyside undefeated in October 2018 and remained that way as the free-flowing nature of recent meetings gave way to a cagey 0-0 draw.

Reprising the theme of those early Klassiker meetings, Guardiola took his foot off the throttle as City played at a controlled tempo – an approach that would have ended the club's Anfield hoodoo but for Riyad Mahrez's ballooned late penalty.

Fire and brimstone returned the following January, though, with a wobbling City recovering their poise and avoiding a 10-point deficit at the top. Aguero and Leroy Sane were on target either side of Firmino in a bravura display, where Aymeric Laporte took on the unfamiliar role of left-back to stifle Salah.

That was Liverpool's only loss of the season as they finished on 97 points, agonisingly one shy of City. However, their subsequent Champions League final win over Tottenham improbably propelled them further along.

Just as Guardiola has tempered some of his more cavalier tendencies when faced with Klopp, the challenge of an unrelenting City also forced the Liverpool boss into subtle and decisive tweaks.

In bringing in Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, he spent big for what many see as the finest goalkeeper and centre-back on the planet. Their very presence means risk can be reduced.

Heavy metal football has given way to a steady pulsing beat that never wavers. In the city of Merseybeat, Klopp has gone electro.

Amid their steamrollering of the opposition this season, Liverpool have 19 wins by a solitary goal in all competitions. They are frighteningly and ruthlessly clinical. A profligate City trail in their wake, although Guardiola has used this relative freedom from pressure to thumb intriguingly through his tactical playbook in 2020.

Both men have inspired the other to reach beyond their comfort zones and the result is the two best teams in world football. With Klopp contracted to Liverpool until 2024 and Guardiola talking up an extended stay, the thought occurs that they are each other's motivation for sticking around. There is nowhere better to measure their greatness than against one another.

Ben Stokes must have endured nightmares over this day four years ago, when Carlos Brathwaite smashed West Indies to T20 World Cup glory in such dramatic fashion.

Gregg Popovich also has bad memories of April 3, having been ejected only 63 seconds into the San Antonio Spurs' NBA clash with the Denver Nuggets last year.

Lionel Messi scored two penalties when Barcelona beat Milan to reach the Champions League semi-finals on this day back in 2012.

We take a look back at April 3 in sporting history.

 

2016 - 'Remember the name' - Brathwaite goes berserk

Stokes has had plenty to celebrate in the past year, but the England all-rounder endured a horror show at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

Windies all-rounder Brathwaite was the star of the show, blasting Stokes for four sixes off the first four balls of the final over to ensure his side became the first to win two World T20 titles.

Commentator and former West Indies bowler Ian Bishop belted out "remember the name" when Brathwaite sealed a stunning victory, having needed 19 off the final over.

While Stokes has gone on to better things, he will certainly not have forgotten the name of Brathwaite. 

 

2019 - Off you pop

Some spectators may not have taken their seats when Spurs coach Popovich was given his marching orders 12 months ago.

He took exception to a non-foul call and was issued a technical by official Mark Ayotte before being handed another by David Guthrie just over a minute after tip-off in an encounter with Denver.

The Nuggets went on to win 113-85 three nights after Popovich was also ejected during a loss to the Sacramento Kings.

2012 - Milestone for Messi as Milan crash out

There have been many days when Messi achieved a milestone and his half-century of Champions League goals came eight years ago to the day.

The Barcelona superstar made no mistake from the penalty spot twice as the Catalan giants beat Milan 3-1 to reach the last four.

There were no goals in the first leg at San Siro, but Messi proved to the match-winner, with Andres Iniesta netting the third. Chelsea ended Barca's run at the semi-final stage, though, winning 3-2 on aggregate.

Alessandro Del Piero lauded Paulo Dybala and believes the Juventus star has become "complete" after an off-season transfer saga.

Dybala, 26, was linked with a move away from the Serie A giants during the close season, but ended up staying before making an impressive start to the campaign.

The Argentina international had scored 13 goals and provided seven assists in 34 games before the season was stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Del Piero, a Juventus great, hailed the playmaker for his growth and said Dybala could be a future captain of the club.

"Paulo has already worn the armband a few times and if it has already happened it is because they consider him to be up to it," he told Sky Sport on Thursday.

"As far as I know him personally, I believe that his maturity has grown a lot, primarily due to the reaction he had after this summer, which underlines the growth in terms of personality.

"He has always been available and dedicated to work and I think he is complete in this respect too."

Juventus were top of Serie A and in the Champions League last 16 when the season was suspended.

Del Piero believes they can win the Champions League for the first time since 1996 if the campaign gets back underway.

"If the tournament will start again, Juve have everything to win this year," he said.

"There are teams that in different ways have the potential to win, but Juve can do it."

UEFA has postponed all national team matches scheduled to be played under its auspices in June, including the play-offs for the delayed Euro 2020 finals.

European football's governing body held a video conference on Wednesday with representatives from all 55 member associations.

Those involved considered recommendations made by the working groups UEFA set up last month to address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After that meeting on March 17, it was confirmed Euro 2020 would be moved to June and July of next year, although play-off games were still slated to take place during the international break at the scheduled end of the 2019-20 season.

However, all UEFA matches are now postponed until further notice, while deadlines relating to the 2020-21 campaign for the organisation's club competitions are similarly on hold, with the prospect of football's shutdown going beyond the June 30 date where player contracts typically expire alluded to as a potential complication.

"The deadlines related to all 2020-21 UEFA club competitions are postponed until further notice, in particular as regards the admission process and the registration of players," a press release read. “UEFA will set new deadlines in due course."

At the initial meeting, UEFA made a commitment to try and complete all European and domestic club competitions by the end of June – a prospect that appears increasingly fanciful as leagues across the continent remain suspended with little sign of a resumption.

UEFA has also stated it will relax Financial Fair Play and club licensing measures related to its 2020-21 competitions as clubs deal with unprecedented times.

"The Executive Committee reiterated its full commitment to club licensing and Financial Fair Play and agreed that the current exceptional circumstances necessitate some specific interventions to facilitate the work of member associations and clubs," the statement read.

"It supports the proposal to give member associations more time to complete the club licensing process, until the admission process for next season’s UEFA club competitions has been redefined.

"As a result of the increasing uncertainty generated by the ongoing extraordinary events, the executive committee also decided to suspend the club licensing provisions that relate to the preparation and assessment of clubs' future financial information. This decision applies exclusively for participation in the 2020-21 UEFA club competitions."

Additionally, UEFA cancelled its European Under-17 Championship and European Women's Under-19 Championship, scheduled for May and July respectively.

The corresponding European Under-19 Championship and European Women's Under-17 Championship are postponed with the aim of rearranging, given they double up as qualifying competitions for FIFA's U-20 World Cup and U-17 Women's World Cup.

Next month's UEFA Futsal Championship League finals have also been postponed until further notice.

Whatever your thoughts on modern-day Jose Mourinho, you cannot deny his legacy in football. For one thing, he wouldn't let you.

Eight league titles across four different countries, domestic cups with Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid and Manchester United, one Europa League, two Champions Leagues, the 2009-10 treble... Mourinho has a trophy cabinet that would be the envy of most coaches in the game.

His teams have, of course, boasted their fair share of star names who have helped him on his way to greatness - even if he didn't get on with them all. In fact, last weekend, Marca published a series of ideal XIs from football figures across the world, including one selected by Mourinho himself from his best club sides.

It's a pretty formidable line-up, but we at Stats Perform think we might have one to match. Each one contains a notable Opta fact for each player.

See which team you think is best...

MOURINHO'S BEST XI (according to the man himself):

Petr Cech
In Mourinho's first season in charge at Chelsea, Cech kept 24 clean sheets in the Premier League (2004-05), a record in the competition.

Javier Zanetti
Zanetti was the only outfield player to play every minute of Inter's 2009-10 Champions League-winning campaign under Mourinho.

John Terry
Chelsea's former captain has made more Premier League appearances under Mourinho (187) than any other player, scoring 15 goals.

Ricardo Carvalho
The centre-back played under Mourinho for three different sides (Porto, Chelsea and Real Madrid) – indeed, no player has made more Champions League appearances under the Portuguese than Carvalho (54).

William Gallas
Only John Terry (15) has netted more Premier League goals among defenders under Mourinho than Gallas (seven – level with Branislav Ivanovic).

Claude Makelele
In Chelsea's title-winning campaign of 2004-05, Makelele made 140 interceptions from the heart of Chelsea's midfield. Only Patrick Viera (156) made more among outfield players that season.

Frank Lampard
Lampard scored more Premier League goals under Mourinho (49) than any other player. In 2004-05 Lampard became the first Premier League midfielder to reach double figures for both goals (13) and assists (18) since Matt Le Tissier in 1994-95, whilst only Thierry Henry (39) registered more goal involvements than the Englishman (31).

Eden Hazard
During Mourinho's second tenure in charge at Chelsea, Hazard scored in more Premier League games than any other player for the club (24 – 28 goals).

Mesut Ozil
Ozil provided more assists (47) and created more chances (314) than any other player under Mourinho in LaLiga.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo scored 153 LaLiga goals under Mourinho, 83 more than any other player for Madrid during this period. He also scored 12 Champions League goals in 2012-13: at that stage, only Lionel Messi (14 goals in 2011-12) had scored more goals in a single Champions League campaign.

Didier Drogba
Drogba won the Premier League Golden Boot in 2006-07 under Mourinho (20 goals), despite Chelsea finishing second that season behind Manchester United.

AN ALTERNATIVE BEST MOURINHO XI (according to Stats Perform):

Iker Casillas
Only Victor Valdes (42) kept more clean sheets among LaLiga goalkeepers than Casillas (35) while Mourinho was in charge at Real Madrid.

Cesar Azpilicueta
Azpilicueta was Chelsea's Players' Player of the Year in Mourinho's first season back at the Blues in 2013-14.

Sergio Ramos
In Mourinho's three seasons at Real Madrid, only Guilherme Siqueira scored more LaLiga goals among defenders than Ramos (10).

Marco Materazzi
The treble-winning defender's only Champions League goal came in the 2008-09 season under Mourinho, against Anorthosis Famagusta in the group stages.

Marcelo
The Brazilian completed more dribbles in LaLiga than any other defender during Mourinho's stint as Real Madrid boss (154).

Esteban Cambiasso
Only captain Javier Zanetti (75) and keeper Julio Cesar (74) played more league games for Inter under Mourinho than Cambiasso (65).

Paul Pogba
No United player was involved in more Premier League goals than Pogba while Mourinho was in charge at Old Trafford (31 – 14 goals, 17 assists).

Deco
Deco was involved in more goals than any other Porto player in their successful 2003-04 Champions League campaign (seven – two goals, five assists), also creating more chances than any other player at the club (38).

Wesley Sneijder
Sneijder was involved in more goals than any other Inter player during their successful 2009-10 Champions League campaign (nine – three goals, six assists), also creating more chances than any other player at the club (33). After leading Inter to the treble and Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2010, he somehow failed to make the Ballon d'Or top three.

Samuel Eto'o
Only Eden Hazard (14) scored more Premier League goals for Chelsea than Eto'o in Mourinho's first season back at Chelsea in 2013-14, with the Cameroon striker netting a hat-trick against reigning champions Manchester United.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic was top scorer in Serie A in Mourinho's first season with Inter, scoring 25 goals.

Sergio Ramos has won it all for Real Madrid and Spain.

From the World Cup to the Champions League, the Madrid and Spain captain has a full trophy cabinet.

As Ramos celebrates his 34th birthday on Monday, we look at what the former Sevilla defender has achieved since moving to the Santiago Bernabeu in 2005.

 

1 – Ramos helped Spain win their first World Cup in 2010. Playing as a right-back, with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique the centre-back pairing – Ramos was crucial in Spain keeping five clean sheets in South Africa. It is his only World Cup title to date.

2 – Spain's most-capped player has two European Championship trophies to his name – Euro 2008 and Euro 2012. Ramos returned to the heart of Spain's defence for their title defence in 2012, partnering Puyol. Ramos also has a pair of Copa del Rey (2011 and 2014) successes.

4 – Not many can boast four Champions League winners' medals, but Ramos can. The face of Madrid, Ramos hoisted the coveted piece of silverware aloft in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Ramos forced extra time in the 2014 decider against Atletico Madrid as Madrid claimed 'La Decima'. He also scored in the 2016 final versus the same opponent, captaining Madrid to a remarkable three successive Champions League crowns. Just like Europe's premier club competition, Ramos has celebrated four LaLiga triumphs. He won titles under Fabio Capello (2007), Bernd Schuster (2008), Jose Mourinho (2012) and Zinedine Zidane (2017). He has also won as many Club World Cup (2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018) and Supercopa de Espana (2008, 2012, 2017 and 2019-20) finals.

3 – Ramos and Madrid dominated the UEFA Super Cup between 2014 and 2017, winning the trophy three times. He scored in the 2016 final against former club Sevilla.

21 – The amount of trophies Ramos has won as a Madrid player. Paco Gento holds the record at the Bernabeu with 23.

170 – Ramos is the most-capped player in Spain history. He surpassed former Madrid and international team-mate Iker Casillas in October after earning his 168th cap.

640 – Since swapping Sevilla for Madrid, Ramos has appeared in almost 700 games for the capital club. He is fifth on the all-time list, behind leader Raul (741).

20 – Ramos holds the all-time record for most red cards in LaLiga. In total, the Spaniard has been sent off 26 times across all competitions. He has four dismissals in the Champions League – equalled for the competition's record.

Football will eventually return following the coronavirus pandemic, but it could look a little different.

The sport's leading competitions have been suspended amid the global crisis, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino this week suggested the pause represented an opportunity to "reform football".

"Perhaps we can reform football by taking a step backwards," Infantino told Gazzetta dello Sport. "[There would be] fewer but more interesting competitions, maybe fewer teams but for a better balance, fewer but more competitive matches to preserve players' health."

But what could post-coronavirus football look like? What must remain? What should disappear?

Five Stats Perform writers have put forward their suggestions for how the sport can move forward.


NO MORE GROUP STAGES - Ben Spratt

Those seemingly most frustrated by football's packed schedule are the coaches of leading European clubs. Therefore, there is a simple way to lose four games a season.

The most exciting Champions League and Europa League matches - with greater scope for shocks - tend to occur in the knockout stages anyway, so why not play two tense legs instead of six pool fixtures to advance?

A return to the format used in the European Cup and UEFA Cup might mean renaming the continental 'Leagues', but it is a price worth paying. Just keep the Champions League anthem!


DITCH FA CUP REPLAYS - Chris Myson

Even before the coronavirus pandemic caused a host of postponements and cancellations, fixture schedules were a particularly significant issue in England.

The FA Cup initially got rid of replays from the quarter-finals onwards and has since extended that to the fifth round. But now they should go all the way.

This would impact the one or two lower-league clubs each year who earn a dream replay against a top team in round three or four, but the competition has lost some of its lustre with big teams often resting their star names in the early rounds anyway.

Often the additional fixture is an inconvenience, while a one-off tie increases the drama and actually boosts the chance of a lower-tier club achieving an upset.


GET RID OF THE EFL CUP - Peter Hanson

Another sure-fire way to ease pressure on the calendar in England is to ditch the EFL Cup.

French football is ending the Coupe de la Ligue after this season, meaning English football will be the only one of the top-five European nations to have a second domestic cup competition.

With early rounds dominated by second-string XIs and fringe players, and the 'bigger' clubs largely utilising the cup as a means to give minutes to expensive benches, there is little clamour for the continuation of the EFL Cup.


AXE THE NATIONS LEAGUE - Liam Blackburn

If we're looking to cut back, how about axing the newest competition, the one that has no history and remains a mystery to your Average Joe?

The thought process behind UEFA's Nations League – to have more relevant fixtures and allow countries to play those they are more closely aligned with in the rankings – is commendable, yet it was undermined by the eventual absence of relegation from the inaugural edition.

The format and its relationship with qualifying for the Euros continues to be something of a Rubik's Cube unless you're a rocket scientist.

If something needs to go, can the convoluted.


CUT THE CLUB WORLD CUP - Patric Ridge

Infantino's calls to trim a bloated calendar are sensible, but actions speak louder than words. Perhaps proof of his desire for "reform" would come with an early end to an expanded Club World Cup.

Although the new 24-team format would see the finals held every four years in lieu of the Confederation Cup, it still seems an unnecessary hindrance.

The competition has been won by the Champions League holders on all but four occasions since its 2000 inception and provides little in the way of entertainment. 

Given the first new-look Club World Cup was due to take place in 2021 and now the Euros, Copa America and Olympics have each been pushed back to next year, Infantino has the opportunity to disregard this particular folly once and for all.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has acknowledged the 2019-20 season across Europe would likely be lost if football is unable to restart by the end of June.

The 2019-20 season has been suspended indefinitely across most of Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Euro 2020 also pushed back to 2021.

While leagues are hoping to restart between the end of April and the beginning of June, there is as yet no definite return date and Ceferin has conceded it may be impossible to finish the season at all.

In that case, UEFA's president has suggested the campaign would have to be considered as null and void.

"If we don't succeed in restarting, the season will probably be lost," Ceferin told Italian publication La Repubblica.

"There is a plan A, B and C. The three options are to start again in mid-May, in June or at the end of June.

"There is also the possibility of starting again at the beginning of the next [season], starting the following one later. We will see the best solution for leagues and clubs."

Some matches on the continent, including Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund, were played behind closed doors earlier this month, and Ceferin stated playing games without fans in attendance may be the only solution in order to complete the season.

"It's hard for me to imagine all the matches behind closed doors, but we still don't know whether we'll resume, with or without spectators," he said.

"If there was no alternative, it would be better to finish the championships."

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp felt staging the Champions League match against Atletico Madrid at Anfield without restrictions earlier this month was a "criminal act", according to Carlo Ancelotti.

Everton head coach Ancelotti has spoken with Klopp amid the coronavirus pandemic and said the German had concerns over his side’s continental fixture going ahead in front of a full stadium on March 11.

Liverpool went out of the Champions League after the second leg of their last-16 tie ended in a 4-2 aggregate defeat, their last match before top-level football was widely halted due to the outbreak.

Ancelotti told Corriere dello Sport: "I heard from Klopp the other day, he told me that going ahead with the game in those conditions was a criminal act. I think he was right."

Former Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Milan boss Ancelotti predicts there will be an economic "downsizing" after the virus has passed, with football feeling the effects of that.

"We are all living a life that we were not used to and that will change us profoundly," he said. "I'm sure we will all have to downsize, starting with football.

"Today, the priority is health, limiting the contagion. When you start again, when you finish, the dates - believe me, I don't care. At the moment, that's the last thing on my mind.

"I hear talk about cutting salaries, suspension of payments. They seem like inopportune solutions.

"Soon the economy will change, and that's at all levels: The TV rights will be less, players and coaches will earn less, tickets will cost less because people will have less money.

"I repeat, what matters now is to fight the virus effectively. Then, of course, if it will be possible to continue the season... otherwise, amen."

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

Rayan Cherki is Lyon's latest academy prodigy and has set his sights firmly on the top, openly admitting last week that he aspires to one day play for Real Madrid.

He is the 16-year-old who has already made 12 senior appearances for Lyon and been tipped to emulate Kylian Mbappe as the next big thing to come out of Ligue 1.

Madrid are not alone in showing an interest in the teenage midfielder, though, with Manchester United and Liverpool also among those to have been linked.

Able to play on either flank or through the middle and capable of embarrassing defenders with his trickery, Cherki is very much a player with the world at his feet.

@UEFAYouthLeague pic.twitter.com/Rmi94MAfaZ

— Rayan Cherki (@rayan_cherki) March 9, 2020

THE BREAKTHROUGH

After scoring in the UEFA Youth League at the age of 15, becoming the youngest player to do so at the time, Cherki was already a name on Lyon fans' lips when making his senior bow.

That came in a stalemate with Dijon in October, making him the youngest player - at 16 years and 63 days - to appear for Lyon in Ligue 1 since Willem Geubbels in 2017.

By comparison, World Cup-winning striker Mbappe was still more than nine months away from his Monaco debut at the same age.

And while the game finished in a bore draw, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas heaped praise on the youngster and later said he has the potential to become better than Mbappe.

"He is more technical than Mbappe... and more important - he has broken out at a younger age," Aulas told Tuttosport in February. "If he stays at Lyon for another few years, he will become even better than Mbappe."

Aulas was not alone in hailing Cherki, with boss Rudi Garcia singling him out for his energy in the middle of the park - something that would start to become a more regular occurrence.

Faut pas trop lui parler d’âge hein. @rayan_cherki https://t.co/lqZ6ihu600

— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) January 18, 2020

STEPPING UP

Praise and potential is one thing, of course - showing that you are capable of living up to the hype is another matter entirely.

In the five months between making his senior debut and the enforced Ligue 1 break due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cherki regularly justified the talk of being the next big thing.

He has gone on to make 12 appearances for Lyon in all competitions - four of those as a starter - totalling 453 minutes in total.

Impressively, the France Under-16 international already boasts three goals and two assists, giving him a return of one goal involvement per 91 minutes on the field. He is also creating a scoring opportunity every 41 minutes.

Four of those goals involvements - two strikes of his own and two assists - came in January's Coupe de France win over Nantes, earning front-page billing on French daily L'Equipe. 

If Europe's elite clubs had not taken notice of Cherki before then, they certainly did at this point.

What a performance! @rayan_cherki pic.twitter.com/pi97bCaJMD

— OL English (@OL_English) January 18, 2020

SUSTAINING HIS FORM

Lyon have a history of bringing through talented youngsters, with the likes of Nabil Fekir, Karim Benzema, Corentin Tolisso and Samuel Umtiti among them.

The first player born in 2003 or later to play in Ligue 1, Cherki now needs to maintain the form he has displayed in his first half-season in order to emulate those aforementioned stars.

And the attacking midfielder, whose solitary league start came away at Paris Saint-Germain, certainly does not lack confidence when it comes to his career path.

"My dream is to play for Real Madrid," he said in an interview with Lyon TV last week, perhaps swayed by the progress of compatriots Benzema and Raphael Varane at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Cherki, also eligible to represent Italy or Algeria at international level through his parents, also outlined his intention to one day win the Ballon d'Or.

The versatile attacker still has a long way to go for that to happen, of course, and there are improvements to be made. One of the criticisms has been his insistence on going it alone too often, rather than taking an easier option.

"He has a strong ability to beat players but uses it too much and not especially wisely," Garcia said at the turn of the year, perhaps trying to downplay the growing hype. "We have to be careful with our young players, that's why we protect him a lot, especially in the media aspect of things. He is fairly quiet, but he must be aware that he still has huge room for improvement. The good thing about him is that he listens. If he continues like this, he will be able to go as high as possible."

Heed the advice of his manager and the path to superstardom awaits for Cherki, whether at Lyon, Real Madrid or elsewhere.

Lyon's youngster of many talents appears very much to be the next big thing to emerge from an academy that just keeps on giving.

Manuel Neuer turned 34 on Friday, but the Bayern Munich and Germany goalkeeper is still going strong.

Captain for both club and country, Neuer has helped Bayern to seven straight Bundesliga titles, plus a Champions League triumph, and also won the World Cup six years ago.

Despite intense pressure from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the former Schalke star remains Germany's number one.

And Neuer is adamant he will maintain a starting role at Bayern next season after the arrival of Alexander Nubel, even if the veteran was linked to Chelsea this week.

To mark his birthday, we take a look at the key numbers - with the help of Opta - from a career that shows no signs of slowing.
 

576 - Neuer has made more senior club appearances - for Schalke and Bayern - in all competitions than any other Bundesliga player since 2006-07.

92 - The keeper is closing on a century of Germany caps since his June 2009 debut. He has been captain since September 2016.

5 - Just four other goalkeepers in Bundesliga history - Richard Golz, Gerhard Heinze, Eike Immel, Ulrich Stein - have made at least 150 appearances for two different clubs. Neuer played 156 times for Schalke, before turning out for Bayern on 241 occasions.

188 - Oliver Kahn (196) is the only goalkeeper to have kept more Bundesliga clean sheets than Neuer.

0 - No keeper can better Neuer's tally of 188 clean sheets in Europe's top five leagues since 2006-07. Former Bayern team-mate Pepe Reina is second on that list with 171.

47 - Of Bundesliga goalkeepers to have played at least four games, Neuer (47 per cent) has the best clean sheet rate. He has kept a clean sheet in 52 per cent of his league games for Bayern.

0.78 - Neuer concedes the fewest goals per game of any keeper with at least five appearances in Bundesliga history. Again, that statistic improves further to just 0.65 goals per game when playing for Bayern.

20 - The World Cup winner holds the record for the most clean sheets in a Bundesliga season, achieved in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. He surpassed Kahn's 2001-02 benchmark of 19.

107 - Since his Champions League debut in 2007-08, Neuer is the only goalkeeper to tally over a century of appearances in the competition.

42 - Neuer has also kept the most Champions League clean sheets in this time.

35 - Earlier this season, Neuer surpassed Kahn (33) for Champions League clean sheets for Bayern. He is one shy of Kahn's record DFB-Pokal tally of 33 clean sheets.

76 - Since detailed data collection began in 2004-05, Neuer has the best passing accuracy percentage of all goalkeepers with at least 20 Bundesliga appearances.

1 - Neuer has played only once on his birthday, keeping a clean sheet as Schalke beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 away from home in 2010.

0 - Despite his regular forays outside the penalty area, Neuer has never been sent off.

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

When Ferran Torres scored the fourth and final goal of Valencia's 4-1 Champions League win over Lille in November, he further enhanced his burgeoning reputation and announced himself to another mass of admirers.

While the goal mattered little in the grand scheme of the match, and it wasn't a contest that was likely to draw in all of the indecisive neutrals on that night, it gave him his own slice of history, becoming the first player born in 2000 to net a Champions League goal for a Spanish club.

His cool top-corner finish after an incisive run into the box will have been met with nods of approval from those being alerted to Ferran, but his talent was no secret at that point.

A skilful and direct winger capable of playing on either flank, Ferran appears destined to terrify full-backs across European football in the 2020s.

THE EXPLOSION

Despite only being 20, this is Ferran's third season in the Valencia first-team squad and he already has 62 LaLiga appearances to his name – 20 of which have been as a starter this term.

He had only played 12 times for Valencia's B team in the third tier before Marcelino Garcia Toral promoted him permanently to the senior side in December 2017, his LaLiga debut as the fifth-youngest player in the club's history a rare ray of sunlight as he came off the bench in the rain during a 2-1 defeat at Eibar.

"All of us within the club were sure that we were looking at a very high-level footballer," Marcelino told Panenka magazine earlier this month. "It was only a matter of time before he exploded, because it was clear this player had to play. He still has a significant margin for improvement, but along with [Martin] Odegaard, for me, he is one of the revelations of the season."

Ferran's form for the Spain Under-19s in July further highlighted his potential, scoring the both goals in the 2-0 final win over Portugal and earning himself a spot in the Team of the Tournament.

He has since established himself in Valencia's starting XI, taking full advantage of Goncalo Guedes' injury absence – but with great exposure comes a greater worry for Los Che.

TEEING UP A FRENZY

Ferran and his sister Arantxa have a tattoo in common. "An anchor. It was a reminder for us not to let ourselves be sunk by anything or anyone," she told OTRO last year.

Perhaps that should serve as a portentous warning to Valencia at this time, with Ferran's future becoming more uncertain by the week and his contract due to expire in 2021.

While that agreement is reported to contain a €100million release clause, Valencia would rue holding out for such a figure at this point, as to do so will surely see him ultimately leave on a free transfer next year.

Local sports paper Super Deporte remain optimistic, some might say naively so. His silence in replying to an offer "should not necessarily be interpreted as a no forever", they wrote this month, suggesting they are trying to convince themselves as much as anyone else. Strong reports elsewhere suggest he plans to depart.

If Ferran enters the final 12 months of his contract, a transfer frenzy is bound to occur, with Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester City all said to be keen admirers. 

The fact of the matter is, Valencia are running out of time. 

NOT THE FINISHED ARTICLE

There's no doubting Ferran's ability to excite – after all, only five midfielders in LaLiga have attempted more dribbles this season than his 92. But he certainly hasn't hit his ceiling.

Ferran has many areas in which he can improve, particularly with respect to increasing his chance creation frequency. 

Although his record of 21 opportunities crafted this term is by no means terrible, he is way behind Jose Campana (58), Lionel Messi (55) and Odegaard (54) leading the way in LaLiga.

His dribble map suggests a potential reason for this, as it shows that on many occasions he attempts to carry the ball, he is not in the final third of the pitch.

The greater awareness he requires should come with experience. It would be a bigger problem if he was struggling to ever find dangerous positions.

But he has touched the ball more times (51) in the opposing area than any of his midfield team-mates this term.

And while eight goal involvements (four goals, four assists) may not sound remarkable, that's only one fewer than Odegaard – a standout performer for many this term – and no one with more than eight is younger than Ferran.

Athletes are at risk of having their careers cut short if soon-to-be free agents face a prolonged period of unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic, warned World Players Association executive director Brendan Schwab.

COVID-19 has brought sport to a standstill across the globe, with the 2020 Olympic Games, major European football leagues, the NBA, MLB and NHL postponed.

Euro 2020 and Copa America 2020 have been pushed back to next year amid the fight to combat the spread of the virus, which has claimed more than 21,290 lives.

It remains to be seen when and if the 2019-20 Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 seasons will resume, raising doubts over the futures of football players – whose contracts are due to expire in June.

The likes of Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva (both Paris Saint-Germain), Willian (Chelsea) and Dries Mertens (Napoli) are all set to become free agents.

As clubs and organisations try to reduce costs amid the economic crisis, Schwab – who works for World Players, which brings together 85,000 players across professional sports through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries – told Stats Perform: "The challenge is to ensure enough liquidity during the shutdown so that the same content can be delivered to fans, broadcasters and brands but over a longer period.

"Existing contracts and regulations such as contract expiry dates and transfer windows will all need to be reformulated which can only be done though collective decision-making involving governments, sports bodies, broadcasters, stadia operators, player unions and civil society. The impact on the sporting schedule will be long-lasting and may take several years to return to normal.

"Seasons just starting – such as MLB, AFL and NRL – have a longer struggle in many ways. Shortened seasons are likely, but it all depends on the length of the shutdown, liquidity and the window available to complete seasons. Sports which own their own infrastructure will have greater flexibility and will be in a stronger position to design solutions.

"The key is collective decision-making, goodwill and long-term thinking, all of which can be difficult during such uncertainty. Many key sports governing, commercial and player contracts have 'force majeure' clauses which may apply in these circumstances. Certain parties may be able to 'cut and run', but that will only worsen the bleeding and make recovery more difficult. We need to bunker down, show we care about our people, fight the pandemic, exercise restraint, save as many jobs and legitimate commercial interests as we can, and re-emerge with a renewed, sustainable and collectively developed economic model.

"Tuesday was the anniversary of the death of arguably football’s most influential figure, Johan Cruyff. He famously said that there is advantage in every disadvantage. That thinking is needed right now."

Schwab added: "Individual players will be impacted differently. The destiny of free agents will depend much on the state of the leagues once the shutdown has been lifted. There is a risk that players coming off contract will face a prolonged period of unemployment if the shutdown continues, which can be career ending.

"The top players should be OK during this period, but remember they are a fraction of players and athletes who work professionally. It is likely that the economic impact of the shutdown will result in a deflated labour market for some time, which will suppress wages even among the viable leagues. For leagues outside the very top echelon, it may be a battle for survival.

"However, sport's essential role in society will be unchanged and may even be renewed and elevated. It will have a critical role to play as the community reunites after the pandemic and we expect a major resurgence in demand. Sport is therefore an important part of government planning, and it is pleasing to see that progressive governments in Switzerland, Sweden and some other countries have included sport in the stimulus packages they are announcing. They will reap a community dividend for doing so even as they balance the essential interests of the broader society and economy."

"[Next year] an intense year for sport as current seasons will now run well into the northern summer and that will require a readjusted schedule in 2021," the Australian executive continued. "The postponement of the Olympics may allow for existing concerns to be addressed including the health and safety impacts of the extreme heat of July-August in Tokyo. These issues all need to be worked through. We shouldn't assume the Olympics are simply put back 12 months. We are consulting with our affiliates about how to approach the shaping of the 2021 sports calendar."

Coronavirus has largely affected the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, but Schwab said: "We have been concerned with some of the heath information being conveyed, including that COVID-19 is a disease that mainly affects the elderly and the vulnerable. Athletes, too, are vulnerable, despite being young and fit. The disease attacks the lungs, and athletes themselves have suffered very severe symptoms which may be long-lasting. There have been fatalities among people between 20 and 44 and young people can transmit the virus even if they don't have symptoms.

"Players have also been forced into quarantine when living away from their families. It is necessary that effective support mechanisms are in place to ensure the mental health and social wellbeing of players as well as their physical health. Our player unions play an essential role here."

Fabio Cannavaro believes it will be difficult for European football to return before the season ends amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sport has been brought to a standstill due to COVID-19, with Serie A, LaLiga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and the Premier League all on hiatus.

The Champions League and Europa League finals have also been postponed, with Euro 2020 pushed back to next year following more than 18,800 deaths worldwide – over 9,800 of the casualties from Italy and Spain.

Former Italy, Juventus and Real Madrid defender Cannavaro – now in charge of Chinese Super League powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande – is not confident that football will resume by May.

"In less than a month it is not known what is going to happen in the world," the 43-year-old told COPE.

"I think it will take a long time for this to end in Italy and Spain.

"It will be difficult for European football to return before the season ends."

Cannavaro has been based in China since joining Evergrande in 2014 before returning in 2017, while he was briefly in charge of the national team last year.

China has enforced strict measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, which originated in the country and has claimed more than 3,270 lives.

"The virus in Guangzhou is under control and life is beginning to go back to normal," Cannavaro added. "There are no more restrictions, only 14 days at home.

"In two days, I finish my quarantine. All of us who come back have to do it.

"Staying at home is essential because we do not give the virus the opportunity to infect more people.

"We have to learn from China, they have more experience in this situation."

UEFA has formally announced the postponements of the Champions League and Europa League finals due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Champions League final had been due to take place on May 30 in Istanbul, with the decisive Europa League encounter scheduled to be contested in Gdansk three days earlier.

However, those games, along with the Women's Champions League final - originally allocated for May 24 in Vienna - will now be played at later dates.

The decision is no surprise, with the vast majority of club football in Europe having been put on hold due to the spread of the virus.

A working group, established last week following a conference call between the stakeholders of European football, is to analyse the available options for fulfilling the fixtures.

In a statement confirming the postponements, UEFA said the working group had already begun its examination of the calendar.

Only half of the eight Champions League last-16 ties have been completed, with Paris Saint-Germain, Atalanta, Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig progressing.

The Europa League is at the same stage, with just six first-leg matches completed.

The Women's Champions League has reached the quarter-finals, with the first-leg matches scheduled for March 25 and second-leg clashes pencilled in for April 1 all postponed because of the pandemic, which has killed over 16,000 people worldwide.

 

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