Real Madrid have made a habit of European success down the years, winning the ultimate prize more times than any other club, and in 2017 they did what no one else could.

But June 3, 2016 will be remembered by many for contrasting reasons, as Muhammad Ali – one of the greatest athletes ever – died, leaving the sporting world in despair.

This day is also notable for South African cricket, and specifically an historic captaincy announcement.

We take a look at the major sporting events to have happened on this day through the years.

2017 – Los Blancos continue their European reign

When Real Madrid and Juventus went head-to-head in Cardiff for the 2017 Champions League final, the omens appeared to be in favour of the Old Lady – no team had ever defended their title in the competition.

But Madrid are no ordinary club and history was theirs in Wales, as they became the first club to retain the Champions League.

Although Mario Mandzukic cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo's well-taken 20th-minute opener with an outrageous over-the-shoulder volley, Madrid romped to a 4-1 victory in the second half.

Casemiro's deflected long-range effort put them back in front, Ronaldo turned in from close range to increase the deficit and Marco Asensio finished Juve off after brilliant work from Marcelo – they would go on to win the competition for a third successive season the following year.

2016 – Sport loses an icon

Arguably the most iconic boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, died exactly four years ago.

His achievements in the ring were plentiful, Ali's most famous victories came in the Thrilla in Manila (1975) against Joe Frazier, and the Rumble in the Jungle (1974), in which he stunningly defeated George Foreman. The latter attracted an estimated one billion TV viewers.

Ali was renowned for his charisma, showmanship and quick wit, while he also wrote poetry and enjoyed success as a musician.

However, his impact as an activist is what he is best remembered for by many. Ali was stripped of his heavyweight titles after refusing to be drafted to the Vietnam War in 1966 and spent over three years away from the ring as he fought his conviction for draft evasion, which was overturned in 1971. His stance saw him grow into an inspirational figure in the civil rights movement.

He succumbed to Parkinson's syndrome in 2016, 32 years after making his diagnosis public. He continues to be regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated athletes in history.

2014 – An historic appointment for South African cricket

With Graeme Smith recently retiring from international cricket, in June 2014 South Africa made an historic appointment for his replacement as Test captain.

Batsman Hashim Amla got the nod despite many suspecting AB de Villiers – Smith's deputy – to have been the leading candidate for the role.

Durban-born Amla, who is of Indian descent, became South Africa's first non-white permanent Test captain in the process.

Amla retired from all forms of international cricket in August last year following the Cricket World Cup.

1999 – Malone named NBA MVP again

After a stellar 1998-99 season, Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz claimed the Maurice Podoloff trophy as he was named NBA MVP.

It was the second time he claimed the prize, making him – at that point – only the ninth player in NBA history to win it more than once, having also been a standout star two years earlier.

In 1998-99, which had a shortened calendar due to a lockout, Malone averaged 23.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists as the Jazz went 37-13, but the San Antonio Spurs ended the season victorious.

After four NBA championships, an MVP award, two scoring titles, 15 selections to the All-Star Game and All-NBA First Team honours on eight occasions, Shaquille O'Neal called time on his illustrious career on June 1, 2011.

Nine years on and the Hall of Famer remains one of the most dominant centers the league has ever seen.

After being drafted first overall in 1992 by the Orlando Magic, O'Neal was named Rookie of the Year and went on to provide the focal point of a team that reached the NBA Finals in 1995.

The Magic failed to go one better the following year and lost him to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he teamed up with Kobe Bryant and three-peated under Phil Jackson.

He was traded to the Miami Heat and won one more NBA championship there, before stints at the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and, finally, the Boston Celtics.

O'Neal had his jersey numbers retired by the Heat and the Lakers, while the latter also erected a statue of him outside of Staples Center.

Using Stats Perform data, we look at some of the most notable aspects of O'Neal's career.

 

Controlling the paint

From his first year in the league until 2004-05, O'Neal averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in each of those seasons. That is 13 straight and is more than anyone else in NBA history. Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon each accumulated 12 in succession.

During that run, there were 10 consecutive seasons (from 1993-94 until 2002-03) in which O'Neal averaged at least 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. Abdul Jabbar's run of nine from 1969-70 until 1977-78 is the next best.

He is one of just four players in NBA history to score more than 25,000 points and block over 2,500 shots.

A man for the big occasions

While he shared the spotlight with Bryant at the Lakers, O'Neal showed how important he was to the team when needed.

He was named the NBA Finals MVP in 2000, 2001 and 2002. The only other player to win the award in three straight years is Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.

O'Neal also holds the record for the most offensive rebounds in postseason history, with his 866 comfortably outstripping second-placed Tim Duncan's 778.

 

Struggles from the stripe

While he may have had the beating of most opponents in the paint, O'Neal found life much harder from the free-throw line.

He was often subjected to intentional fouls, with opposing coaches looking to manage the game clock and limit his team's scoring by sending him to the stripe. The strategy was dubbed the Hack-a-Shaq.

O'Neal missed 5,317 free throws across his entire career, the second-most all time in the NBA; only Chamberlain (5,805) missed more.

Of players to have made at least 1,200 free throws in the NBA, O'Neal has the fourth-worst percentage (52.7). Chamberlain is third with a 51.1 per cent success rate, with DeAndre Jordan (47.4) second only to Andre Drummond (46.1 per cent).

O'Neal also holds the single-game record for the most free-throw attempts without making one, failing to hit any of his 11 against the Seattle SuperSonics in December 2000. He still finished the game with 26 points.

And just like that, the 2019-20 NHL regular season is in the books.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Tuesday that the league will conclude the season by diving right into a 24-team playoff in two yet-to-be-decided hub cities to crown a Stanley Cup champion.

In the unique playoff format, the top 12 teams from each conference - ranked by points percentage from when the season went on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12 - will make the playoffs.

The top four teams in each conference will compete in a round-robin tournament to determine final seedings. The teams seeded five through 12 will participate in a play-in tournament featuring a best-of-five series to determine who advances to face the top four seeds. The playoffs will continue with a second round, conference finals and a Stanley Cup final.

All of this will take place when medical experts determine it is safe for games to resume.

“Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans have told us in overwhelming numbers that they want to complete the season if at all possible,” Bettman said Tuesday. ”And our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion."

So once the regular season was brought to an end, it was time to hand out some hardware and recognise some achievements from the 2019-20 regular season.

The Boston Bruins won the Presidents' Trophy with 100 points and 44 wins - their seventh straight season with 40 or more victories. The only other time Boston notched at least seven consecutive 40-win seasons was when they reeled off 12 straight from 1968-69 to 1979-80.

Boston thrived behind Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, who earned the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing a league-low 167 goals. Rask had a league-best 2.12 GAA, the second time he's led the NHL in GAA after posting a 1.97 in 2009-10. That 10-year span between leading the league in GAA is the longest by a goalie since Hall of Famer Patrick Roy led the NHL in 2001-02 after not leading since 1991-92.

Boston's David Pastrnak and the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin tied for the league lead with 48 goals to share the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the top-goal scorer. For Ovechkin, it extended his record for most seasons leading the league in goals scored to nine, now two more than Chicago Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull.

While Ovechkin managed to add to one record, the shortened season robbed him a chance of matching another.

With 48 goals, Ovechkin finished just two scores shy of matching Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in NHL history. It's a good bet if the season wasn't interrupted by coronavirus and a full 82-game season transpired, Ovechkin would have managed a pair of goals in Washington's final 13 games and got his name next to Gretzky and Bossy in the record book.

It's a similar story for Pastrnak. The Bruins had a dozen games left when the season was paused and ultimately cancelled, costing him a chance to become the first Bruin 50-goal scorer since Cam Neely tallied exactly 50 in 1993-94. At 24, Pastrnak became the youngest skater to lead the league in goals since the Tampa Bay Lighting's Steven Stamkos scored 60 as a 21-year-old in 2011-12.

Ovechkin may have been one of the league's top goal scorers, but he didn't lead the Capitals in points, with John Carlson recording eight more than his team-mate's 67.

Carlson's 75 points were the most by a defenseman this past season, which works out to an average of 1.09 points per game. His points-per-game average is the highest by a defenseman in a single season since the Detroit Red Wings' Paul Coffey averaged 1.29 points in 1994-95.

An Edmonton Oiler once again won the Art Ross Trophy as Leon Draisaitl finished the season with a league-leading 110 points after Conner McDavid took it home in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The Edmonton franchise has won the Art Ross Trophy 10 times, now one more than Chicago and the Montreal Canadiens to stand alone for second most, trailing only the Pittsburgh Penguins' 15.

Draisaitl, the first German-born skater to lead the league in scoring, led the NHL with 33 multi-point games and had a league-best 67 assists. He becomes just the third Oiler to lead the NHL in assists, joining McDavid and Gretzky, who accomplished the feat with Edmonton nine times.

McDavid finished with 13 fewer points than Draisaitl, but his 97 points were still good enough for second most in the NHL. Draisaitl and McDavid are the first set of team-mates to be the league's top two leading scorers since the strike-shortened 2012-13 season, when Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis had 60 points and Stamkos had 57. Prior to that, the last team-mates to go 1-2 in points was in 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux had 161 and Penguin team-mate Jaromir Jagr had 149.

The last time Edmonton had the league's top two scorers was in 1986-87, when Gretzky had 183 points and Jari Kurri was second with 108. (To answer your next question, that difference of 75 points behind the league's number one and number two scorer is the second-largest gap in NHL history behind only the 79-point difference in 1983-84, when Gretzky had 205 points and Coffey had 126.)

Now that these regular season trophies have been sorted out, the attention turns to the ultimate prize – the Stanley Cup.

The 2019 Stanley Cup final began just over a year ago, with Game 1 taking place on May 27, 2019, but this year's champion is unlikely to raise the cup until the fall considering the NHL said training camps cannot open any earlier than July 10 as part of the league's return-to-play plan.

July 10 will be 121 days since the last NHL games were played on March 11. It has been a long wait without professional sports in the United States, but the NHL feels it has conceived a plan that is not only safe, but also creates an intriguing playoff format to crown a champion.

“We believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that, as a practical matter, might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused,” Bettman said. “And this plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the postseason gauntlet that is unique to the NHL."

Serie A was given the green light to resume from June 20, making it the latest major European League to return to action.

The coronavirus pandemic forced most global sport into shutdown in March, but three rounds of Bundesliga fixtures have been played – albeit behind closed doors.

It was announced on Thursday that football in Italy will return with the Coppa Italia semi-finals on June 13, with the final taking place in the week leading up to the first Serie A fixtures in three months. The Premier League is also set to get back under way from June 17.

With the rest of the 2019-20 season now firmly within sight, we look back at the best Opta stats from Italy's top-flight campaign.

JUVENTUS

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

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

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

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

LAZIO

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

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

INTER

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

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

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

ATALANTA

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

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

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

MILAN

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

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

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

Serie A is the latest of Europe's top leagues to announce a firm date for the return of the 2019-20 season.

Italy's top flight, suspended in March amid the coronavirus crisis, is set to get back underway on June 20.

Debate has raged in the past three months over whether the season should resume or be ended early, as has been done in France, but the Stats Perform AI team have crunched the numbers behind the scenes during the hiatus.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

JUVENTUS ARE CHAMPIONS... AGAIN

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

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

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

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

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

INTER SETTLE FOR THIRD

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

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

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

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

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

 

MILAN SCRAPE EUROPA LEAGUE PLACE

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

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

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

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

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

SAMPDORIA AVOID THE DROP, RIVALS GENOA NOT SO LUCKY

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

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

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

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

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

Pierino Prati scored a hat-trick as AC Milan won the European Cup in 1969 and Francesco Totti played the final match of his career on this day three years ago.

May 28 will always be a special date in Milan's history, with Prati the hero in a 4-1 defeat of Johan Cruyff's Ajax at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A tearful Totti said his goodbyes after 25 years with Roma, fittingly bowing out with a Serie A victory over Genoa and it is 23 years since Borussia Dortmund won the Champions League.

There was also a day to remember for Klay Thompson in 2016, when he set an NBA playoff record for three-pointers in a match to keep the Golden State Warriors' season alive.

 

1969 - Prati punishes Ajax

Real Madrid greats Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano were the only players to score a European Cup final hat-trick until Prati's Madrid masterclass.

The clinical forward was on target with a header, a venomous strike from outside the penalty and an opportunistic finish as the great Cruyff was upstaged.

Angelo Sormani also found the back of the net for the Rossoneri as they lifted the famous trophy for a second time.

Prati, Puskas and Di Stefano remain the only three men to have scored hat-tricks in the biggest match in European football.

 

1997 - Riedle double puts Dortmund in dreamland

Dortmund delivered in their first Champions League final, beating the mighty Juventus 3-1 in Munich.

Germany striker Karl-Heinz Riedle put the Bundesliga side in charge with a quickfire first-half brace, turning in from close range before heading beyond Angelo Peruzzi.

Juve had a goal disallowed before Alessandro Del Piero pulled one back with a sublime backheel.

Dortmund-born substitute Lars Ricken magnificently restored the two-goal cushion with his first touch and there was no way back for Juve as Ottmar Hitzfeld's side celebrated their finest hour at the home of rivals Bayern Munich.

 

2016 - Three and easy on Klay's day

The Golden State Warriors needed their stars to step up when they faced the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.

They had pegged the Thunder's series lead back to 3-2 with a victory two days earlier and had to win again in Oklahoma City in order to force a decider.

It was Thompson who starred to silence the Thunder fans, on target with a playoff record 11 attempts from behind the line and finishing with a 41-point haul.

The defending champions went on to win the final match of the series but went down 4-3 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals.

 

2017 – Eternal great Totti finishes on a high note

After a quarter of a century in the famous colours of Roma, the time finally came for Totti to bow out three years ago.

The one-club man was given a magnificent send-off from the fans who watched him captain his boyhood club for as many as 18 years.

Forward Totti, a World Cup winner with Italy in 2006, scored 307 goals in 786 games for the Eternal City giants.

Totti came off the bench to a standing ovation in his swansong versus Genoa and Diego Perotti's last-gasp strike snatched a 3-2 victory to secure second spot and a place in the group stage of the Champions League.

In the eerie quiet of Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday, the joyous yells of Bayern Munich players will have been more noticeable than ever.

With no crowd noise to drown them out, Bayern players screamed in celebration as they beat Borussia Dortmund for a second time in 2019-20, the shouts echoing around BVB's iconic home as Die Roten effectively sealed an eight successive title.

The build-up to Der Klassiker was dominated by talk of what the contest meant for the Bundesliga crown, and the consensus was failure to win would doom Dortmund's hopes.

Even sporting director Michael Zorc acknowledged this in the pre-match news conference on Monday: "If we want to keep competing for the title, we have to win the match. It's as simple as that."

Dortmund's start suggested that was the exact line Lucien Favre put across to his players before the match – they began with real verve and purpose, Erling Haaland having an effort cleared off the line by Jerome Boateng inside the first 40 seconds.

A continuously notable element of a gripping first period was the quality of the hosts' build-up play, with Julian Brandt, Mahmoud Dahoud and Thorgan Hazard playing some fine football between them.

But the final pass was too often found wanting, with Hazard and Brandt culpable on two particular occasions when the right ball would have surely left Haaland with a simple finish.

Bayern's cautious set-up in the first half probably contributed to Dortmund being in the ascendancy, but Hansi Flick's starting XI contained the right balance to allow them to be both solid at the back and still a threat in attack.

Joshua Kimmich and Alphonso Davies encapsulated that perfectly, with the latter in particular producing yet another gutsy display.

The story of the Canada international's season is well-documented – he's gone from being a back-up winger, to left-back cover to arguably the most exciting attacking full-back in the world.

All of his immense qualities were on display again on Tuesday.

Given his lack of experience in the position, there have still been those questioning his defensive capabilities, but it's difficult to see how any such subjects will be discussed with any real vigour after this.

Up against Davies, Achraf Hakimi struggled to have the sort of influence he has become accustomed to in the right wing-back role for Dortmund, failing to create a single chance, while Hazard simply wasn't good enough to exploit any occasions it looked like he might get the better of the 19-year-old.

Even Erling Haaland got to experience the full ferocity of Davies' pace and power, as the former Vancouver Whitecaps talent darted back with remarkable speed in the first half to deny the Norwegian a certain goal.

But then he also showcased his ability going forward, one mazy run seeing him somehow slalom through a crowd of four players, before eventually running into the Yellow Wall that was Mats Hummels, who didn't deserve to be on the losing side.

But he was, once again, against his former team, the effortlessly classy Kimmich proving decisive.

In a moment of real frenzy, with the ball pinging off Bayern players just outside the box late in the first period, the German produced an incredibly composed finish that seemed to stop time – his intricate chip looping over Roman Burki and finding the net with a little help from the goalkeeper's hand.

At the base of Bayern's midfield he was typically influential, his 104 touches of the ball more than any other Bayern player.

Kimmich also attempted more passes (81) than the rest of his team-mates, completing 89 per cent of them, while defensively he was astute, making three clearances, two interceptions and eight ball recoveries.

On top of all that, he ran 13.75km during the match, the most by any Bayern player in a Bundesliga match since Opta began recording such data in 2013-14.

Dortmund threw bodies forward towards the end, but there was a hopeless, aimless nature to their attacks once Haaland – their focal point – had been forced off with an apparent injury.

BVB had been urged to cut loose before the match, embrace the occasion and take the game to Bayern. While one can argue they did, Flick wisely recognised his side had more to lose and his team's mentality reflected that.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and Bayern once again got the better of Dortmund, a fact that will now surely be reflected in the final standings as Flick's men went seven points clear.

From an optimist's perspective, Dortmund's squad is young and, should they manage to keep it mostly intact, trophies will surely come their way – potentially even Bundesliga titles.

But Kimmich and Davies could be dominating Der Klassiker for the next 10 years, and given their level at this point, that is a frightening thought.

At least there will likely be some crowd noise to drown out their celebrations next time.

Tuesday's Der Klassiker between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich looks set to play a decisive role in where the Bundesliga title ends up, and the game itself could conceivably be decided by the two teams' options on the flanks.

There is something deeply satisfying and exhilarating about an effective, attack-minded wing partnership, and there have been many such combinations down the years that fit the bill.

Lionel Messi and Dani Alves, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos, Philipp Lahm and Arjen Robben, Djalma Santos and Garrincha – the list goes on.

While there are also many effective flank pairings in modern football, when considering which are the most effective from an attacking sense, it is difficult to look past those served up by Germany's big two.

Although Jadon Sancho has only been fit enough to make a couple of substitute appearances since the Bundesliga resumed, there is every chance he will be back in the starting XI on Tuesday, with Achraf Hakimi, Alphonso Davies and Serge Gnabry all likely to feature as well.

All four are enjoying fine seasons – below, we examine just how effective the quartet have been.

Hakimi v Davies

Given they'll both be operating on the same side of the pitch, Hakimi and Davies will likely spend a significant amount of time in close proximity or running at the other, hoping to punish any defensive lapses. Even watching it could be exhausting, given how quick they are.

Both are more renowned for their attacking tendencies than defensive nous, which is certainly understandable with respect to Davies, who is effectively in his first season as a full-back. A straight comparison highlights plenty of common strengths when they are unshackled.

Davies' remarkable pace has attracted attention at times this term, and with good reason – his top speed of 35.3km/h is second only to Kingsley Coman (35.7km/h) in the Bayern side, though Hakimi clocks in as the quickest player since these records began in the Bundesliga, having got up to 36.5km/h.

Bayern youngster Davies shades it in terms of ball carries (running with possession for at least five metres), however. He embarks on 19.9 per game, 0.4 more than Hakimi, while Davies holds on to the ball for 12.4m on average – the Dortmund right-back keeps it for 11.5m.

Davies has also attempted more take-ons (118 to 113), has a better dribble success rate (58 per cent to 56 per cent) and runs an average of 11.2km per 90 minutes, 600m more than Hakimi.

Nevertheless, Hakimi's 146 carries for more than 10m is a Bundesliga-high, and while Davies negligibly edges him out in many of the aforementioned metrics, the Moroccan's 14 Bundesliga goal involvements is more than double that of the young Canadian.

Either way, it is clear to see both full-backs play a significant role in driving their respective teams up the pitch - Davies might be in for a more robust test of his defensive capabilities in this contest, however.

Sancho v Gnabry

It's worth pointing out neither player is exactly guaranteed to start – fitness issues have meant Sancho only made substitute appearances in Dortmund's past two matches, while Gnabry was on the bench at the weekend.

However, given their respective records this term, if they are in top condition, there is little doubt both will start. It is the biggest match of the season, after all.

Sancho and Gnabry have enjoyed immensely productive campaigns. The Bayern winger has had a hand in 20 Bundesliga goals, while the England international hit 30 with his 16th assist of the season at the weekend when setting up Hakimi.

Sancho is way out in front in terms of take-ons, having attempted a league-high of 131 this term, completing 47 per cent. Gnabry has looked to beat his man 92 times, succeeding 48 per cent of the time.

But there are fundamental differences between their respective styles of play when in possession.

Gnabry is more likely than his counterpart to end a carry with a shot, doing so 29 times in 2019-20, behind only Timo Werner (36). Similarly, 22 of his successful dribbles have come inside the penalty area – a joint-high for the division with Robert Lewandowski and Marcus Thuram.

By comparison, Sancho has only completed eight dribbles in the box and just 14 of his carries ended with a shot. However, eight of them have led to an assist, which is a Bundesliga record in 2019-20 and seven more than Gnabry.

This suggests, to a certain degree, that Gnabry lacks some of the awareness of Sancho, or at the very least possesses more of a single-minded approach.

The data also highlights Sancho's slightly deeper role, which is backed up by the fact he tends to run further (11.2km per match to 10.7km), sprint more (35.5 per match to 34.1) and has reached a higher top speed (34km/h, to 33.2km/h) than Gnabry.

While Sancho arguably comes out on top generally, there's no doubting both are exceptional talents and if they get anywhere close to their best on Tuesday, either he or Gnabry could light up the Klassiker by themselves.

Bayern Munich can make a fool of you. Ask Niko Kovac.

How, for instance, did he lead Bayern to a 5-1 defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt back in November?

Kovac, who was head coach of Frankfurt before landing the Bayern job, cleared his desk at Sabener Strasse shortly after that aberration and would have been forgiven for giving Saturday's rematch a swerve.

What he missed in the battle of his former teams was a sometimes confusing 90 minutes, and further proof that Bayern can make one feel a fool.

At the 50-minute mark, they looked an unstoppable force, 3-0 to the good against a Frankfurt side who had lost four Bundesliga games in a row before arriving at the Allianz Arena.

Leon Goretzka, Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski punished increasingly feeble defending, and Bayern were rampant. It would have been easy to lionise them at that point.

Tuesday's Klassiker clash with Borussia Dortmund looked like a fixture they could tackle without any questions asked over their levels since the league resumed.

Enter Frankfurt's Martin Hinteregger, whose most memorable involvement to that point had been landing an accidental blow that caught Lewandowski near the eye.

In the space of three minutes, he twice embarrassed Bayern's defence, first when allowed far too much space on the edge of the six-yard box to bundle beyond Manuel Neuer, and then when he jumped between a gang of red shirts to head home a corner.

Game on? Not really. Order was restored as Alphonso Davies danced through a dithering Frankfurt defence for a gift of a fourth Bayern goal.

And then came another reminder of how Bayern can make even a towering footballer cringe, as Hinteregger made it onto the scoresheet for the third time in the half, albeit this time at the wrong end.

Attempting some clever footwork to fend off another Bayern raid, he contrived to trickle the ball into an empty net with some of the ditsiest defending seen this side of Djimi Traore.

Bayern finished up with five goals and have beaten Frankfurt 11 times in a row at home now, while Eintracht have now lost 10 of 13 away games in the Bundesliga this term.

Their coach, Adi Hutter, had the bragging rights in November but might now be fearing for his job.

Dortmund will analyse Bayern's performance and search for conclusions, noting those moments of vulnerability that Frankfurt exploited. There were weaknesses to be found, but it would not seem prudent to read too much into those.

The logical conclusion is that Bayern switched off, believing the game to be already won, and will be far more wary of Dortmund from the first to the last whistle at Signal Iduna Park.

So four points separate the top two again, with the Hansi Flick revolution at Bayern still sweeping all aside in Germany, regardless of the odd bump in the road.

Dortmund might take some heart from the cracks in Bayern's backline, but equally Muller and Lewandowski looked primed to exploit any weakness in any side, any day of the week. Tuesday? They can do Tuesday.

Five goals and a mid-match nap was not a bad primer for the biggest match of the Bundesliga season.

On the day it was announced that Mario Gotze will be leaving Borussia Dortmund again, it was Erling Haaland who played the role of forgotten man in a 2-0 win at Wolfsburg.

It's the stunning rise of players such as Haaland that has brought Gotze's second spell at his boyhood club to an end. Last time, he was leaving for Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich; seven years on, nobody is sure of his next move.

He does not suit the flowing 3-4-3 in which Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt are thriving - head coach Lucien Favre admitted as much on Friday. While not exactly a relic at 27, Gotze needs a new lease of life in fresh pastures. His career has drifted for too long for a player of his talent.

Sitting as an unused substitute on Saturday, he might have sympathised as Dortmund's latest young superstar went missing.

Between joining from Salzburg in January and facing Wolfsburg this weekend, Haaland had scored 10 goals in six starts in the Bundesliga. His latest came in last week's 4-0 derby of thrashing of Schalke, in which he set up Raphael Guerreiro for the fourth. The 19-year-old has been in Germany barely five months and is already in high demand, lined up for a move to Real Madrid and touted as the heir to Brazil great Ronaldo.

All this made his performance against Wolfsburg surprising. He managed 29 touches, only one more than goalkeeper Roman Burki, won under half of his duels and lost possession nine times. His 20 attempted passes was the lowest number of any outfield player to start the match bar Daniel Ginczek, who was withdrawn after 64 minutes.

The explosive turn of pace, the power with which he can make defenders look amateurish, was not there. He was closed down, eased off the ball and tripping over too easily against Wolfsburg centre-backs John Brooks and Marin Pongracic, who pushed high to keep him far from goal. They didn't exactly bully Haaland, but he might want to check if they at least pilfered his lunch money.

He still managed to play his part in the opening goal, despite his best efforts. The Dortmund right flank was their best avenue throughout and it was from there that Brandt, Achraf Hakimi and Hazard combined, the latter given space to cut the ball back across the box. Haaland stepped, turned and swung his foot, missed the ball completely, and thumped down on his backside, giving Guerreiro a tap-in.

Dortmund's lead was comfortable, but largely by virtue of Wolfsburg's tepid early efforts. After half-time, Oliver Glasner got his side playing the sort of football that had set them on a seven-game unbeaten league run. Renato Steffen should have scored when he bustled his way into space, beat Burki but only found the crossbar, and his compatriot did well to parry a second effort from 25 yards out that swerved dangerously towards the left-hand post.

In the end, Dortmund only made the win safe as Wolfsburg went for broke, with substitute Sancho racing away on the break and teeing up Hakimi to bury the second. Haaland had a half-chance for a third, but it petered out when he stood on the ball and watched it run for a goal kick.

Strikers are, by their nature, often isolated figures, and Haaland has set such extraordinarily high standards that he's allowed an off-day, particularly in what was only the second game back after a substantial break caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Yet Dortmund will hope for a sharper display in Tuesday's Klassiker. Whether you're playing for or against Bayern, anonymity is never tolerated. Gotze can attest to that.

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

It's fair to say being labelled the "new Kaka" doesn't always work out well for youth products cultivated at Sao Paulo. Just ask Mirray, Sergio Mota and Lucas Piazon.

Oscar, Lucas Paqueta and Reinier have also had to cope with comparisons to the 2007 Ballon d'Or winner, though it would be unfair to judge whether the latter duo have lived up to that billing yet.

Now it's the turn of Brazil Under-20 international Igor Gomes.

Spotted as an eight-year-old playing football in Rio Preto, he was registered by Sao Paulo two years later and moved into their Cotia academy in 2012.

With his lithe frame, exquisite close control and a determined, powerful running style from central midfield, it's easy to see where the Kaka comparisons come from, even if he doesn't have quite the same burst of pace.

Gomes won six titles during his time in Sao Paulo's youth ranks but found the move up to the U17 level difficult to negotiate at first.

"I blamed myself, I blamed myself too much, when I made an error, I was very sad, I couldn't just move on. It hurt me a lot in games because I couldn't develop my football. I had to work on this issue," he told Globo Esporte.

He showed his character to swiftly overcame that hurdle in 2016, though, winning the U17 state championship before moving up to the U20s and tasting Copa do Brasil success.

By the following year Rogerio Ceni, the former Sao Paulo goalkeeper who scored over 100 goals for the club and had an unsuccessful stint as head coach in 2017, had him training with the first team.

First-team ascension

Gomes was a key part of Sao Paulo's run to the final of the Copa Sao Paulo – Brazil's most prestigious youth tournament – at the start of 2018. There was cause for excitement among Tricolor fans given it was the club's first appearance in the showpiece since a side featuring Lucas Moura and Casemiro lifted the trophy in 2010.

Although the Copinha ended with a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Flamengo, U20 coach Andre Jardine was appointed interim boss of the first team following the sacking of Diego Aguirre in November of that year.

Gomes was one of a number of youth players he showed faith in, handing him his senior debut in a 0-0 draw against Sport Recife in November 2018.

Jardine was replaced in February 2019 by Vagner Mancini and a double in a 2-1 Campeonato Paulista quarter-final first leg victory over Ituano, the first of which was a delightful scissor kick, showed he could play an important role in the senior set-up.

However, Mancini was only keeping the seat warm before Cuca took over in April, and game time was much harder to come by under the man who had played an important role in Gabriel Jesus' development at Palmeiras.

Gomes opted against a loan move to Spain that agent Wagner Ribeiro presented to Sao Paulo in July and it wasn't until the arrival of Fernando Diniz last September that his fortunes turned around – he made just two starts and 12 substitute appearances in five months under Cuca.

From the Tricolor to Los Blancos?

An increase in minutes under Diniz led to an increase in his production and reports of interest from Real Madrid soon emerged.

It is hoped the 21-year-old will command a record fee of £45million for Sao Paulo, whose previous biggest sale was the £33.5m deal that sent Lucas to Paris Saint-Germain in 2013, and he certainly fits with a recent trend at the Santiago Bernabeu.

After missing out on Neymar to arch-rivals Barcelona, Madrid president Florentino Perez has splashed the cash to ensure his team do not miss out on the next big thing to come out of Brazil.

Since 2017, Los Blancos have shelled out in excess of £100m to bring teenage prodigies Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Reinier to the club.

Could Gomes be the next name in the chain? Diniz believes he has the talent for it and acknowledged Sao Paulo's precarious financial position makes a transfer highly likely.

"It's difficult to stay [at Sao Paulo] because of his age and quality. Clubs, and Sao Paulo cannot escape this, almost none do, they need to sell players to honour their financial commitments," Diniz told Radio Transamerica.

"If it arrives at a certain moment, with the size of the proposal, the club is almost obliged to sell. As long as we have the model that is there … we will continue to be a supplier of raw materials. And he is a great raw material.

"Due to the evolution he is experiencing, he is a player on an exponential growth curve. He plays better and better, he identifies with the club and the way the team plays. His improvement was almost instant after I arrived. There is a very clear tendency for Igor to play better and better."

Diniz unlocks potential

It is clear why Diniz thinks that. Of Gomes' 27 appearances in the 2019 Campeonato Brasileiro, 15 came in the space of two months after he took over as head coach, and his two goals and assists came during that run.

He had the fifth most passes completed in the league among players aged under 22, with his accuracy rate a respectable 83.7 per cent.

Gomes is particularly capable of doing damage high up the pitch. He has an eye for an incisive pass and the technical ability to be able to pull off an intricate throughball.

Sao Paulo team-mates Luan Santos (404) and Antony (749) – who respectively played 257 and 1,037 minutes more than him – were the only players under 22  to complete more passes in the opposition half than his 400 in last year's Brasileirao.

It's no wonder he was handed a pay rise in March, though his contract is set to expire in 2023, and Diniz has no doubt Gomes is destined for big things.

"With his age it is always going to be difficult for the team to keep him. If I say what I want, it is that he could stay as long as possible," said the coach.

"He is a player of very rare quality in Brazilian football, perhaps worldwide, and the way he plays is very important."

Robert Lewandowski had been away longer than the Bundesliga.

But in a world where uncertainty surrounds us, there was still a certain inevitability the Pole would make the difference for Bayern Munich at Union Berlin.

A penalty got him there, after Neven Subotic carelessly booted Leon Goretzka, and Benjamin Pavard's late header made the points safe.

And so that's 40 goals again for Lewandowski, reaching that dizzying mark for a fifth season in succession, with eight Bundesliga games remaining and Champions League and DFB Pokal campaigns to complete.

The striker missed Bayern's three games immediately prior to the German season being suspended in March, after hurting his knee in Bayern's 3-0 hush-hushing of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

But Lewandowski is back in time for Bayern to renew their assault on success at home and in Europe, and given his first 40 goals of the campaign came in just 34 games, what price him making it to the half-century before the season's end?

The penalty, calmly slotted to the bottom right corner after a twitchy run-up, rewarded Bayern for a strong enough first-half showing, one in which they had already seen a Thomas Muller tap-in disallowed after a VAR check.

That had been a classic marginal call - the sort for which we almost became nostalgic during football's grim hiatus.

And of course the goal, when it arrived in the 40th minute, was met by near silence, which is going to take some getting used to.

This is a centenary year for Union's old-school ground, the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei (Stadium of the Old Forestry), and the flag-flying and scarf-waving that is usually such a feature was replaced by the barest of backdrops.

Banks of empty seats can provide colour, but empty terraces speak of bleak times, and there are three major standing areas at Union - one at each end and another running the length of the pitch.

Taking into account the fact each terrace would benefit from a lick of paint, or a truckful, there was a majorly austere vibe to this occasion, and the once-familiar energy and noise isn't returning any time soon.

But Germany could take a bow after an apparently successful weekend. Its decision to bring back the Bundesliga - the first of Europe's major leagues to return - came on the back of the country's seemingly effective steps to control the COVID-19 spread.

The reproduction - or R - rate is reported to be around a manageable 0.75, and while the country is close to reaching 8,000 deaths from the pandemic, that figure is tragically dwarfed elsewhere in Western Europe. The United Kingdom and Italy have passed 30,000 and Spain and France are not far away from that grim mark.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her team have left governments elsewhere pondering their own handling of the crisis, and the Bundesliga has struck a similarly effective tone.

The return of football in South Korea had a sense of the shambolic about it, but in Germany there has been impressive social distancing, substitutes sitting several seats away from each other in the stands, leaving the pitchside dugouts to coaching staff.

Face masks, too, were on show. Besides the players on the field and the head coaches roaming the touchlines, it was difficult to spot anybody not masked up.

It is such small things, however sobering, that seep back into society. It's about setting an example, and given Bayern's trip to the German capital was being broadcast worldwide, it was not a small audience that was witnessing the German way of operating.

Bayern weren't great, incidentally, but their lead is back up to four points after being trimmed by Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.

And head coach Hansi Flick has now seen his team plunder 50 goals in his 16 Bundesliga matches since taking charge – a record quick time for reaching the landmark.

An eighth successive Bundesliga title is likely but not inevitable, given Dortmund, with the likes of Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho, are such an exciting proposition.

Bayern and Dortmund must still meet in Der Klassiker. Fans or no fans, that should still amount to a great occasion.

But Bayern are now unbeaten in their last 16 matches, interim coach Flick has become permanent coach Flick, and Lewandowski is at it again. The rust will surely fall away.

Beyond Germany, Bayern's great goal-getter might not have the starry cachet of a Messi or a Ronaldo. Within Germany, the last two months have changed nothing: here, they still bow at the feet of king Lewy.

In these unprecedented times, much was made about the uncertainties surrounding almost every facet of football, whether on the pitch or off it.

From concerns over how the coronavirus pandemic would impact football finances and the transfer market, to whether or not players would be allowed to celebrate as normal – you name it, it has been discussed at length somewhere during top-level football's hiatus.

But ahead of a joyous – yes, joyous, even without fans in the stadiums – return in Germany on Saturday, there was one fact few will have debated such was its certainty, and it did not take long for us to see the evidence.

Erling Haaland is a colossus.

The Norwegian striker's rapid rise to prominence is well-documented - there is little new to be said in that regard - but it would have been entirely acceptable to see a little rustiness after two months without any match action, competitive or otherwise.

After all, there was a lot of that to be seen in the early exchanges of the Revierderby. Dortmund were ponderous and lacking both drive and invention on the ball, quiet like the scenes in the empty stands and bearing resemblance to a training session.

But Haaland was another matter – an early burst into the box in his trademark fashion caused worry, with only a well-timed challenge from the otherwise hapless Markus Schubert in Schalke's net preventing an easy goal.

Within a few minutes he got rough with Jean-Clair Todibo in the Schalke penalty area, lashed a fine volley into the side-netting from a difficult angle and then opened the scoring.

That does not quite do the goal justice, however.

On your average highlight reel, it will not necessarily stand out, but it was a goal of sheer class, one that only a select few strikers could produce.

As he met Thorgan Hazard's fierce right-wing delivery, Haaland carefully allowed the ball to come across him and opened up his left foot, guiding an expert finish into the far side of the net in nonchalant fashion following a blistering burst to get ahead of Salif Sane.

There is a mechanical, almost robotic, sophistication to Haaland. Almost everything he does is with the objective of completing his task in the most straightforward and ruthless manner possible.

It was his 13th Dortmund goal in 12 matches, making him the quickest to that mark since 1964.

He may not possess the elaborate skills of, say, someone like Neymar, but his Terminator-like mind is ensuring Haaland remains a devastating threat.

This mindset was again noticeable for Dortmund's third goal, as he received a pass inside his own half from the excellent Julian Brandt and began marauding forward, prodding the ball past Sane as he was sent tumbling. Brandt latched on to that pass and then set up Hazard.

But like the Terminator, Haaland is also capable of finesse, a trait he exhibited with his intricate reverse pass to tee up Raphael Guerreiro's second goal in the 63rd minute.

While there was little to be surprised about Haaland's performance, being able to watch the scoring sensation in action again will have been a joy to many after a difficult few months across the world.

He's back – and so is football.

It's the way when I first wrote about him, winning the 2004 US Open boys' title, I called him Andrew.

It's the way not even his mother now calls him Andrew.

It's the way the last person to call him Andrew was likely the court attendant who summoned Murray to be knighted by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.

It's the way you can't imagine British tennis without Andy Murray.

It's the way he'd rather you call him Andy, and not Sir Andy.

It's the way his old coach, Brad Gilbert, calls him Sir Muzzard.

It's the way his two Wimbledon titles and one US Open meant the world, but triumphing in a team cause at two Olympic Games and the 2015 Davis Cup perhaps brought even greater satisfaction.

It's the way he grew up dreaming of matching Tim Henman's achievements.

It's the way Henman now dreams he'd achieved anything close to Murray's success.

It's the way Fred Perry's son's phone has gone cold.

It's the way a squiffy Sean Connery and Alex Ferguson gatecrashed Murray's US Open final news conference to share in his celebrations.

It's the way the man who conquered Flushing Meadows couldn't help but swear and squirm in embarrassment last week when he shanked a backhand into a neighbour's garden.

It's the way I watched and squirmed next to Wimbledon's practice courts in 2017, when a limping Murray battled through a tough session.

It's the way Murray's hip followed David Beckham's metatarsal in becoming a national obsession.

It's the way he won four matches at that Wimbledon and it almost finished him off.

It's the way when he withdrew from Wimbledon "with a heavy heart" in 2018, you knew that was a spectacular understatement.

It's the way sport reporters and news teams race around Wimbledon each year chasing the most tenuous of Murray leads.

It's the way he loves an ice bath, and won't be rushed to a post-match press conference.

It's the way those delays after a late-night match can make you miss the last tube train out of Southfields into central London.

It's the way he chose Amelie Mauresmo as his coach, on a hunch she was the best person for the job.

It's the way he's pals with Nick Kyrgios. It's the way Kyrgios adores Murray.

It's the way Murray shouts, screams and swears like a sailor on the plush lawns of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

It's the way he gets away with it, indulged like a naughty puppy.

It's the way even the stern Ivan Lendl could not put a lid on that famous potty mouth.

It's the way Murray turned 33 today - May 15, 2020 - and might never play again.

It's the way he's determined to play again, even as his body gives off warning sign after warning sign.

It's the way he was training with brother Jamie and coach Jamie Delgado but following social distancing guidelines on his birthday.

It's the way he's spent better birthdays - like the time he beat Novak Djokovic on clay in the Rome Masters Series final on May 15, four years ago.

It's the way Murray was once part of the 'Big Four' that has been trimmed to a 'Big Three'.

It's the way his three grand slams look paltry against Djokovic's 17, Rafael Nadal's 19 and Roger Federer's 20.

It's the way Djokovic, Nadal and Federer each know he had their number at one stage.

It's the way "anyone but England" was a brilliant, yet hopelessly misunderstood "Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order" moment. And it's the way humourless knuckleheads incredibly still hold it against him.

It's all this and more, Andy Murray.

It's the way the story isn't over yet, if he has his way.

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

 

At long last, football is almost back. After a hiatus of more than two months, top-level European club action returns on Saturday with the resumption of the 2019-20 Bundesliga season.

With nine rounds of the season still to be completed, there remains much to play for in Germany's top flight and it all kicks off once again this weekend, with the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke undoubtedly the highlight.

Given there are precious few other sporting events around the world allowed to resume yet, the Bundesliga could be set for an influx of new viewers and fans.

While most followers of ffootball will be well aware of the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland, Timo Werner, Jadon Sancho and the Bundesliga's other leading stars, there are other players perhaps not quite at that level of exposure yet but also worth keeping an eye on.

We identified six who were either enjoying impressive seasons before the suspension, or have shown significant promise.

Amine Harit (22), attacking midfielder – Schalke

To seasoned viewers of the Bundesliga, Harit won't be a new name – after all, he was Rookie of the Year in 2017-18. But after a difficult 2018-19, Harit is enjoying his finest season in professional football. With six goals and four assists, the Morocco international has been a key player for David Wagner's Schalke this term – the skilful and creative attacking midfielder a threat to any defence on his day. However, all of his goal involvements came before Christmas, and if Schalke are to hold on to a Europa League spot, the 22-year-old rediscovering his 2019 form could be vital.

Christopher Nkunku (22), central midfielder – RB Leipzig

A product of Paris Saint-Germain's academy, Nkunku broke into their first-team squad last term but couldn't hold down a place in the starting XI. Leipzig had seen enough of him to feel compelled to part with a reported €15million for the French midfielder, however, and it looks great business. After scoring with his first touch in Bundesliga football, he has contributed another three goals and 12 assists – a haul bettered by only Sancho and Thomas Muller. A wonderful technician, Nkunku is a dead-ball specialist, a fine striker of the ball and a supreme midfield athlete.

Marcus Thuram (22), forward – Borussia Monchengladbach

There aren't a huge amount of similarities between Marcus and his dad Lilian, one of the greatest centre-backs of his generation, but physical presence is one. Marcus Thuram is a handful for defences in virtually every way possible; quick, strong, tall, athletic and a good dribbler. Capable playing anywhere in attack, Thuram is particularly useful coming in off the left on to his right foot, and he has played a role in 14 league goals this term, eight of which were assists. Gladbach are looking to secure Champions League qualification – if they fail, keeping Thuram could be a challenge.

Dayot Upamecano (21), centre-back – RB Leipzig

You won't find many more-complete centre-backs than Leipzig's Upamecano. Strongly linked with a move to Bayern Munich at the end of the season, the France Under-21 international seems to have it all. His excellent distribution is highlighted by the fact his 66 per cent long-pass success is better than Mats Hummels (58), Manuel Akanji (55) and Benjamin Pavard (61), while his 35 interceptions is more than Virgil van Dijk has managed. Potentially the next superstar-in-waiting off the Red Bull production line, Upamecano has a big future in front of him.

Giovanni Reyna (17), attacking midfielder – Borussia Dortmund

The son of former Manchester City and United States midfielder Claudio Reyna, Gio appears destined to go on to bigger things than his old man. The 17-year-old made his debut as a substitute in the 5-3 win over Augsburg on January 18 and has played another seven Bundesliga matches since. Although mostly making cameo appearances, his direct approach to dribbling, upright running style and effortless elegance on the ball bear resemblance to Brazil and Milan great Kaka. It's only a matter of time before he gets his first Bundesliga start.

Jean-Clair Todibo (20), centre-back – Schalke

A newcomer to the Bundesliga, having joined on loan from Barcelona in January, the jury is still out on Todibo. Schalke accept it's unlikely they'll be able to trigger his purchase clause – reportedly worth €25m plus €5m in add-ons – due to the financial consequences of the pandemic, but a loan extension is said to be a possibility. A technically gifted centre-back who is comfortable on the ball and a solid passer, Todibo, 20, was perhaps unlucky to not get more opportunities at Camp Nou. He made five league appearances after joining Schalke, and although only two were starts, he is considered a real prospect.

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