The Texas Rangers were not very good last season and deserved to sit out the postseason. That is hardly a controversial statement for a 78-84 team.

Yet it is very possible that a team with a similar record to the Rangers – albeit in far fewer games – could advance to the playoffs in 2020 and beyond if MLB goes ahead with a proposed 16-team expanded playoff following a regular season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the proposal, eight teams from each league would reach the postseason and the two wild card games would transform into an eight-team wild-card round with eight best-of-three series.

If the proposed 16-team format is applied to the final 2019 standings, the added playoff teams would have been the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Rangers in the American League, and the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs in the National League.

Each of those teams finished above .500 except for the Rangers, who would qualify under the new format as the eighth seed in the AL.

The only previous team to reach the playoffs after finishing the regular season under .500 was the Royals with a 50-53 mark in the strike-split 1981 campaign. The Kansas City Royals went 20-30 in the first half of the season and 30-23 in the second half before losing to the Oakland Athletics in the playoffs.

It is not difficult to see why both MLB and players would be in favour of expanded playoffs. More postseason games mean more broadcast rights can be sold, which is particularly important after so much revenue will be lost from an abbreviated regular season played without fans in most cases.

In the proposal, commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB would give the additional playoff games to broadcast partners for free this year to compensate for the shortened regular season, and MLB would then sell the games for 2021.

The increase in playoff games gives players extra opportunities to play beyond the regular season, which is after all why the games are played in the first place. The new format also adds the designated hitter to all games for the first time, including games between National League teams for 2020 and 2021.

That will not make baseball purists happy and fans will be robbed of magical moments like Bartolo Colon hitting a home run, but a universal DH adds jobs to a game that has seen its free agent market squeezed recently. It will also extend the careers of players no longer able to play defense adequately.

How will fans feel about more than half the teams reaching the playoffs? Some will scoff at the idea and say that it makes baseball look too much like the NBA and the NHL.

Others might be totally on board with it. That could especially be true of fans in Detroit or Baltimore or any other team with no chance at the postseason in a regular 162-game season. Maybe the Orioles get hot for a couple of weeks late this summer and somehow sneak into the playoffs. This new format at least provides a glimmer of hope, however miniscule.

It was not long ago that just four teams out of 28 qualified for the playoffs, but changes were made following the 1994 strike season.

A wild card team was added in 1995, increasing the number of playoff teams to eight. That remained the status quo until another wild card was inserted in each league in 2012 to bring the total number of playoff teams to 10 out of 30.

It's often said that a whole new season begins with the playoffs and look no further than the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals for a prime example. Washington did not even win their division, finishing four games behind the Atlanta Braves, but the Nationals were the best team when it mattered most.

This new format may decrease the importance of the regular season, but it adds more excitement to the playoffs and would make those games even more tense.

More playoff teams provide more opportunities for upsets and what fan couldn't get behind a sub-.500 team knocking off a top seed? That scenario is a whole lot more likely if MLB goes through with the proposed three-game series in the first round of the playoffs.

Certain seasons leave an indelible mark, whether for on-field play or for other reasons. The 1981 season with its two halves and the 1994 strike-shortened season fall in the latter category. The 2020 season appears destined for that group as well.

The worst-kept secret in the Premier League was finally confirmed on Thursday as Chelsea announced Timo Werner is to join from RB Leipzig.

Prolific Germany international Werner is to link up with his new team-mates in July after the Blues reportedly agreed to pay £47.5million (€53m) for his services.

Werner, whose contract length was not announced but is thought to have signed on until 2025, is enjoying a fine season having registered 32 goals and 13 assists in 43 appearances across all competitions for Leipzig.

Chelsea have been busy shaping their squad for next season, with Hakim Ziyech also arriving from Ajax.

Now that Werner is officially making the move to London, we have looked at some potential line-ups for Chelsea next term, with a little help from Opta for good measure.


4-3-3: Kepa; James, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso; Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic; Pulisic, Werner, Ziyech.

Chelsea have employed the 4-3-3 regularly in 2019-20 and our side includes N'Golo Kante, who has not always fitted into Frank Lampard's best XI. But his tireless energy in this formation could be crucial to winning the ball back and setting up the quick counters for Werner to flourish. Jorginho has been heavily linked with a move back to Italy for a reunion with Maurizio Sarri at Juventus but he has been a mainstay for Lampard. With 1,638 successful passes and 88 per cent pass success rate in the league this term, his role is clear: set the tempo. Under this system, Werner is supported by the guile of fellow new signing Ziyech – who scored six goals and provided 12 assists in the Eredivisie before the remainder of the campaign was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic – and Christian Pulisic. United States international Pulisic has endured a mixed campaign, though he can undoubtedly be a useful outlet. He will want to improve on two assists and 19 chances created from 16 appearances in the Premier League and the pace and accuracy of Werner could well help with that.

4-2-3-1: Kepa; James, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso; Jorginho, Kovacic; Hudson-Odoi, Mount, Ziyech; Werner.

Playing with a 4-2-3-1 line-up would allow Lampard to utilise Mason Mount, who has enjoyed a breakout campaign at Stamford Bridge but may find his prominent role threatened by Chelsea taking the opportunity to spend big. Still, with six goals, four assists and 43 chances created from 29 Premier League games, Mount clearly has the creativity from which Werner could flourish. Callum Hudson-Odoi offers a different option to Pulisic in the wider positions, though he would hope his numbers (one goal, four assists and 18 chances created from 17 league appearances) will also benefit from linking up with Werner. Mateo Kovacic's place looks pretty assured in midfield (he has 1,421 successful passes and a pass completion rate of 89.6 in the Premier League in 2019-20) but the fit-again Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ross Barkley and teenager Billy Gilmour offer more options in a midfield stacked with depth.

3-4-3: Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Christensen; James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso; Werner, Abraham, Ziyech.

One player whose progress may be stunted by the arrival of Werner is Tammy Abraham, who has 13 goals in 25 Premier League appearances this season. The striker's conversion rate excluding penalties (21.67 per cent) and goals per game (0.5) are both lower than Werner's in the Bundesliga (25 and 0.8, respectively) and Chelsea's search for more firepower does not suggest regular starts. But Werner does have the versatility to play out wide if need be and one such way to accommodate both players is by going with a three-at-the-back formation, which Lampard employed regularly before the coronavirus suspension. For next term, Chelsea could slot Cesar Azpilicueta into a back three, with Abraham leading the line and Werner playing on the left. Alternatively, Werner could play in a two alongside Abraham, with Ziyech in behind and Reece James and Marcos Alonso providing the width.

Chelsea completed a major transfer coup by securing RB Leipzig star Timo Werner on Thursday.

The Germany forward has long been touted as a target for Liverpool, but the Blues have stolen a march on their Premier League counterparts.

But what sort of a player will Chelsea be getting when he arrives at Stamford Bridge in July?

Here, we take a look at the numbers that make Werner one of the most highly regarded players in European football.

MEASURING UP TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE ELITE

At 24, Werner is poised to enter his prime years and appears to be improving at a rate of knots.

Last season, he scored 16 goals in 30 Bundesliga appearances, under-performing his Expected Goals (xG) figure of 17.6, according to Opta data.

This term, he has raced to 26 in 32 outings at a rate that significantly outpaces his xG.

The early return of the Bundesliga has given Werner a chance to burnish his tally, with five goals in seven outings since the restart, including a hat-trick in the 5-0 demolition of Mainz.

But even in terms of goals-per-game, none of the leading Premier League marksmen are able to match the RB Leipzig star's average of 0.8 this season. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Jamie Vardy and Sergio Aguero are all on 0.7.

Vardy and Aubameyang do boast better shot conversion rates than Werner's 23 per cent, while Leicester City's former England striker also shades him 66 per cent to 65 in terms of accuracy.

Nevertheless, Werner compares incredibly well to his soon-to-be counterparts in England and his upgrade on Tammy Abraham's 0.5 goals per game for Chelsea could be a particularly significant one for Frank Lampard.

PUSHING LEWANDOWSKI IN THE BUNDESLIGA

Bayern Munich have also been noted as admirers of Werner and there would appear to be no more suitable heir to their prolific number nine Robert Lewandowski.

Since Werner's Bundesliga debut for Leipzig in August 2016, only Lewandowski (112) has scored more goals in Germany's top flight than his 76. Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric comes in third on 52.

Indeed, across Europe's top five leagues this term, Werner's 32 goals in all competitions is better than everyone's return aside from the Poland superstar's 46.

No player's goals in the 2019-20 Bundesliga have been worth more points to their side than the 16 Werner's have bagged for Leipzig, while the trademark style of some of those strikes has certainly caught the eye.

Bayern Munich set record after record as they sealed another Bundesliga title.

A sluggish start to the season under former boss Niko Kovac was almost forgotten as Hansi Flick led a charge to glory.

Bayern clinched their latest silverware with a 1-0 win at relegation-threatened Werder Bremen on Tuesday, Robert Lewandowski scoring the winner in the first half.

Here is a look at some of the records and personal bests they established in a history-making campaign.

 

EIGHT IN A ROW

Bayern's dominance reached a new peak as they extended their streak to eight successive Bundesliga triumphs.

A record 30th title looked in doubt back in the European autumn as they stuttered, but they sauntered to glory with two games to spare.

Borussia Monchengladbach (1975-77) and Bayern themselves (1972-74, 1985-87, 1999-2001) had previously achieved three in a row, but this era of dominance by one team is unprecedented in Germany.

MULLER, THE ULTIMATE HELPING HAND

Thomas Muller was the World Cup's Golden Boot winner with Germany in 2010 and has been a regular goal hero for Bayern for over a decade, but there is more about him than an assured finish.

The 30-year-old has become king of the assists in the Bundesliga this term, racking up 20 to match the highest total achieved since data collection began in 1992-93.

Opta statistics showed that Muller drew level with the total set by Kevin De Bruyne for Wolfsburg in the 2014-15 season.

LETHAL LEWANDOWSKI

Lewandowski's goals have provided the fuel behind Bayern's surge over the second half of the season.

The Poland striker has recorded his best haul of 31 Bundesliga goals and notched 46 across in competitions, a personal high point in his Bayern career.

For a while, he even looked like challenging Gerd Muller's league record of 40 goals in a single campaign, but that is surely out of reach now.

BAYERN CLICK WITH FLICK

Across all competitions, head coach Flick won a startling 26 of his first 29 games in charge, the best start by any Bayern boss, beating Pep Guardiola's 22 in 27.

Kovac lost his job after winning five of the opening 10 Bundesliga games this season, with three draws and two defeats.

The required standard is higher than that Bayern, but Flick's success to date has surpassed all expectations.

GOAL GLUT

Bayern scored 93 goals in their 32 Bundesliga games, setting a new league best. That teed up a shot at the 34-game complete league record of 101 goals, set by Bayern in 1971-72.

Their haul of 132 goals in 45 games across all competitions was also a record by a German team.

Bayern have scored at least four goals in a game 12 times, a figure last achieved by Stuttgart in the 1996-97 season. Bayern own the record in this respect with the 13 occasions they achieved the feat in 1973-74.

Real Madrid have been champions of Europe 13 times and their first title came in dramatic fashion in Paris on this day 64 years ago.

Back in 1948, meanwhile, the New York Yankees welcomed Babe Ruth for one last time to the stadium where he wrote large chapters of baseball folklore.

Cricket's Twenty20 format initially upset many purists but has become a money-spinning, highly successful element of the sport since it was introduced in June 2003.

More recently, Spain's 2018 World Cup plans were left in tatters, with Real Madrid at the centre of another major sporting story.

 

1948 - Babe Ruth's last goodbye to Yankee Stadium

For the 25th anniversary celebration of Yankee Stadium's opening, there was a guest more special than all the rest.

The legendary Ruth was in the house, but it was clear for all to see that he was seriously unwell.

It was already known as 'The House That Ruth Built', and as Ruth stood with a baseball bat instead of a cane, it would be his last visit to his old stamping ground.

This was the day his number three shirt was retired. Stricken by cancer, and a shadow of his once powerful self, Ruth would die aged 53 on August 16 of the same year.

 

1956 - Real Madrid launch a dynasty

The first of 13 European Cup and Champions League triumphs for Real Madrid came at the Parc des Princes on this day.

Having beaten Milan 5-4 on aggregate in their semi-final, they faced a Reims side who had overcome Scottish outfit Hibernian to earn a rather short trip to Paris.

The French side surged two goals ahead in 10 minutes, before Alfredo di Stefano cut the deficit.

A dramatic match saw Reims 3-2 ahead with 25 minutes to play, but Madrid ran out 4-3 winners, Hector Rial's second goal of the game in the 79th minute proving to be the winner. Madrid won the tournament each year from 1956 to 1960, beating Reims again in the 1959 final.

 

1976 - Barker shows her bite

Sue Barker is better known to television audiences as a tennis presenter, often tasked with conducting on-court interviews with newly-crowned Wimbledon champions, and her grand slam success is regularly overlooked.

The greatest day of her playing career came on this day at Roland Garros, when Barker won the French Open with a 6-2 0-6 6-2 victory over Czech opponent Renata Tomanova.

The field had been weakened that year by the absence of defending champion Chris Evert, who elected to skip the tournament. Barker was the top seed, and capitalised.

 

2003 - Cricket takes the fast track

The England and Wales Cricket Board pioneered Twenty20 cricket, with the vision that it would draw a younger audience to the sport, and the short format made its debut on June 13, 2003.

The Twenty20 Cup launched with five matches in a day, with Warwickshire the highest-scoring side, piling up 188-7 at Taunton in a 19-run win over home side Somerset.

Warwickshire's Trevor Penney got into the spirit of the competition with a rapid 52 from 28 balls, clubbing four fours and three sixes.

2018 - Spain sack Lopetegui on World Cup eve

A day before the World Cup began in Russia, Spain's camp collapsed into chaos with the sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) was furious after Real Madrid revealed Lopetegui would become their next boss, an announcement that was said to have been conveyed to them just five minutes before the rest of the world knew.

It was the first the RFEF knew of any negotiations, and they swiftly ditched the man who was preparing to lead the country's bid for glory. Fernando Hierro took over, and Spain were eliminated on penalties by Russia in the first knockout round.

Lopetegui failed at Madrid but is back in business with Sevilla.

Squad line-ups for the next Copa America could look vastly different by the time the tournament comes around following its postponement.

The newest edition of the competition was scheduled to start on Friday, but the coronavirus pandemic saw it pushed back by 12 months in March.

Some veteran players might now fade from the picture before the Copa America gets under way next year, while other stars will have time to recover from injury.

There could also be new faces on the scene, with a host of uncapped prospects given an extra campaign to break through.

With just under a year to go until the tournament starts, we take a look at five players who might emerge on the international scene before then.

GABRIEL MARTINELLI (BRAZIL)

Even beyond Neymar, Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and co, Brazil have a wealth of attacking talent.

Matheus Cunha and Paulinho each starred at this year's CONMEBOL Pre-Olympic Tournament and are already plying their trade in the Bundesliga, yet the nation's most outstanding prospect might reside in London.

Gabriel Martinelli is eligible for both Brazil and Italy, but the Selecao will surely move swiftly to cap-tie the forward, who has represented them at under-23 level. Indeed, he is one of just three teenagers to have reached 10 goals in all competitions across Europe's top five leagues this term, the other two being Erling Haaland (13 for Borussia Dortmund) and Mason Greenwood (12 for Manchester United).

Martinelli trained with Brazil last year aged 17 after starring for Ituano, and he has continued to impress in his first season at Arsenal – his solo goal against Chelsea in January a fine example of his talents, as he carried the ball 61.6 metres before scoring. Only Son Heung-min (71.4m) has travelled further with the ball in the build-up to netting in the Premier League this term.

 

Further progress in the coming weeks and next season would really give Tite something to think about.

 

CRISTIAN ROMERO (ARGENTINA)

Argentina have long had problems at centre-back, with Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi still a regular at international level. However, head coach Lionel Scaloni could soon have greater options to choose from, with younger talents now breaking through.

Nehuen Perez might well have gone to the 2020 Copa America, having been called up for the first time late last year after promising loan spells away from Atletico Madrid, while Borussia Dortmund's Leonardo Balerdi is also highly regarded.

But there's every chance Cristian Romero will leap ahead of both in the pecking order given his greater exposure to first-team football at a higher level, having earned a €26million move from Genoa to Juventus at the start of the season, before being loaned back.

It's not proven to be a straightforward season for Genoa, however. Although their form picked up before before the suspension, they will resume their season later this month just above the relegation zone.

Romero has played 21 of their 27 Serie A games - more than any of his defensive colleagues - and made 51 interceptions, a figure bettered by only Armando Izzo (58) among defenders in Italy's top flight.

Eight defenders have attempted more than his 40 tackles, but none of those above him have succeeded as often as him (68 per cent success). A difficult year it may have been, and reports suggest Juve could even sell him on again, but he has done relatively well despite the circumstances.

 

DIEGO ROSSI (URUGUAY)

Uruguay continue to rely on a number of their veterans of previous tournaments, but this will have to change in the coming months and years - especially in attack.

Although Luis Suarez remains a potent weapon, Edinson Cavani has shown signs of decline in the past year, while Cristhian Stuani is now playing in Spain's second tier. All three will be 34 years old by the time the tournament starts.

Diego Rossi should back himself to be in position to put pressure on that star trio. He left Penarol for Los Angeles FC aged 19 and has proven an instant hit in MLS, having a hand in 41 goals (12 assists, 29 goals) in 68 regular-season appearances – only three players have contributed more.

His ability to play effectively alongside another forward could also help his chances of breaking into the team – Rossi and Carlos Vela have created 84 chances for each other, the second-highest such figure in MLS since 2018, while in the same timeframe only Julian Gressel and Josef Martinez (18) have set up more goals for each other than the LAFC pair (16).

LAFC general manager John Thorrington has spoken of "significant interest" in Rossi from Europe, and such a move would give the forward a great chance of making the grade for Uruguay.

JORGE CARRASCAL (COLOMBIA)

Versatile River Plate attacking midfielder Jorge Carrascal will get fans off their seats if he manages to secure a place in the Colombia squad alongside club-mate Juan Quintero.

A tricky player, comfortable out wide or behind a striker, Carrascal debuted for Millonarios at just 16. He initially struggled after joining River Plate on loan from Ukraine's Karpaty Lviv last year, but he has shown glimpses of immense promise and been capped by Colombia's Under-23s.

Representing his country at youth level for the first time since 2015, the 22-year-old scored in each of his first three games at the Pre-Olympic Tournament and started all seven matches.

For River, the former Sevilla youngster - whose time in Spain was curtailed by injuries - has scored four goals and set up another in 17 matches across all competitions.

Running at defenders is his best quality, however. A flamboyant player, Carrascal has averaged 4.9 successful take-ons per 90 minutes in the Superliga this term, succeeding 53 per cent of the time. Only one under-23 player tries his luck more often in this regard - he certainly likes to entertain.

Who knows, a few successive starts could be all that stands in Carrascal's way before an international call-up - then his future will surely lead him back for another crack at Europe.


REINIER (BRAZIL)

It might seem a long shot for a player who has yet to feature for Real Madrid's first team and started only twice at the Pre-Olympic Tournament to be playing for Brazil's senior side in just over a year's time.

But Reinier will have the benefit of 12 months in the limelight at one of the world's biggest clubs. After signing from Flamengo for €30m, Reinier netted a brace in just his third Castilla appearance - his final match before the coronavirus crisis intervened.

The pre-season will be key if the 18-year-old is to get a chance at Madrid in 2020-21, and there is no reason why he could not then do enough to catch Tite's eye.

During his brief time in professional football back in Brazil, Reinier made 14 Brasileiro appearances and had a hand in eight goals (six assists, two goals), one every 118 minutes on average.

By comparison, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo were significantly less effective - they played a role in a goal every 239 minutes and 341 minutes, respectively, when they were in Brazil, yet both have enjoyed largely promising starts in Madrid.

Vinicius made the big-money move from Flamengo to Madrid in 2018 and had debuted for Brazil within 12 months of his LaLiga bow. The path is clear.

For Eduardo Camavinga, Ansu Fati, Phil Foden, Joshua Zirkzee and Youssoufa Moukoko, a delayed European Championship may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

The 24-team tournament, which was postponed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, was due to start on Friday. Instead, it will now begin on June 11, 2021.

There is a strong likelihood several nations will have different starting line-ups in 2021, with new stars tipped to emerge.

Using Opta data, we take a look at those uncapped youngsters who might benefit from the Euros being moved back to next year.

 

EDUARDO CAMAVINGA

The central-midfield axis of Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante was well-established during France's run to glory at World Cup 2018, though, due to injury, neither man featured regularly in the Euro qualifiers as Didier Deschamps utilised Corentin Tolisso, a bit-part player for Bayern Munich, and Moussa Sissoko, who will soon turn 31.

Teenager Camavinga shot to prominence by dominating in a win over Paris Saint-Germain as a 16-year-old in August. His assist in that game makes him the youngest player to be involved in a goal across Europe's top five leagues this term, and he has since established himself as a regular for high-flying Rennes.

His 64 tackles in Ligue 1 this season is more than any other midfielder in the major European leagues, while he played more than three time as many minutes (2,112) as any other under-18 player in those divisions prior to the COVID-19 suspension.

Already a France Under-21 international, Camavinga has been linked with a move to Real Madrid and, based on his current trajectory, it is easy to see him muscling his way into Deschamps' plans.

 

ANSU FATI

The youngest goalscorer in the history of the Champions League was granted Spanish citizenship in September and it appears only a matter of time before Fati is a senior La Roja international.

There were reports that the Barcelona forward, who was born in Guinea-Bissau, would have been included in the preliminary Spain squad for the March friendlies that were ultimately cancelled.

There were no teenagers in the most recent Spain squad so, at 17, Fati can use the extra time to convince Luis Enrique he is a special case worthy of a regular spot in his selection.

After all, only Lionel Messi (110) and Luis Suarez (125) in the Barca squad have better minutes-per-goal ratios than Fati (202) this season, while the fearless and gifted teenager averages the fourth-most dribble attempts (2.38) per match among Blaugrana players.

PHIL FODEN

You have to be pretty decent if Pep Guardiola has called you "the most talented player" he has ever coached.

Although there have been only fleeting glimpses of Foden in a Manchester City shirt, he has certainly made an impact. In his 11 starts this term, Foden's had a hand in nine goals (seven assists, two goals), while he also has the best minutes-per-assist record (155) across all competitions of Premier League players to have played more than 1,000 minutes.

Regular playing time will surely be less of an issue for the 20-year-old once David Silva departs after the 2019-20 season.

The Spaniard's heir-apparent Foden has already caught the eye for England Under-21s, and might have made the cut for Gareth Southgate's squad in 2020 anyway, but both club and country will have earmarked the classy midfielder for a breakthrough campaign next year.

JOSHUA ZIRKZEE

The enforced break could be considered both a blessing and a curse for Bayern Munich's young Dutch striker Zirkzee.

An injury to Robert Lewandowski had resulted in the 19-year-old starting Bayern's previous two Bundesliga games before the suspension and, having needed just three minutes to score his first two league goals earlier in the season, he was seemingly set to enhance his reputation in the following weeks.

But the season hiatus put paid to that and Lewandowski was fit to return when the campaign resumed, with the Pole typically lethal since. But that doesn't take away from the fact Zirkzee is Bayern's third-youngest Bundesliga goalscorer, as he lays the groundwork for a potential breakthrough season in 2020-21, either at Bayern or on loan elsewhere.

Having only represented Netherlands as high as Under-19 level so far, Zirkzee still has a way to go to force his way into Ronald Koeman's senior squad for competitive fixtures, but another year of development will surely aid his case, particularly given the Oranje's lack of established options in the striker role.

YOUSSOUFA MOUKOKO

A name that may be unfamiliar to many outside of Germany, though perhaps not for much longer given the goalscoring record Borussia Dortmund's 15-year-old prodigy has.

Moukoko netted for the 34th time in his 20th Under-19 Bundesliga game in March, setting a record for the competition, having scored 50 in 28 appearances at U17 level last season.

A Euros this year would have definitely come too soon for Moukoko but Lucien Favre wants the Germany youth international training with his first team soon, and following a regulation change, he will be able to make his debut when he turns 16 in November.

By this time next year, a man already on Joachim Low's radar may just be a long shot for Die Mannschaft's senior team too.

For the first time in a while, there is a genuine and understandable enthusiasm around Manchester United's midfield options.

Bruno Fernandes settled exceptionally quickly following his January move from Sporting CP, Fred has established himself in the team and produced a string of positive performances, Scott McTominay continues to improve and speculation relating to Paul Pogba has gone quiet.

Now there is reportedly increasing confidence of being able to sign Ajax star Donny van de Beek, a key figure in the Dutch side's march to the Champions League semi-finals last year.

The Netherlands international had been heavily linked with Real Madrid, with claims a deal had already been agreed between the club and player, but those reports have since cooled.

There's little doubt Van de Beek would be a fine addition at Old Trafford, but would the fans' ideal midfield trio comprising of Pogba, Fernandes and the 23-year-old be too unbalanced?

More responsibility, greater productivity

One of Van de Beek's biggest strengths is his well-rounded style of play, and it is especially relevant when looking at the roles he has played across the past two seasons.

Last term he was regularly deployed in an attack-minded position ahead of Frenkie de Jong, whereas in 2019-20 he was largely used in a deeper role, helping to fill the void left by his international colleague's departure to Barcelona.

Therefore, if we accept Pogba and Fernandes would automatically fill the first two midfield spots at United, it is likely Van de Beek would be asked to play a deep-lying role if he was to move to Old Trafford.

This certainly did not negatively impact his influence for Ajax in 2019-20, however, even with respect to his attacking output.

Across all competitions, he averaged more touches of the ball (53.5 to 46.7) per game this season, while his touches in the opposition's penalty area also increased from 5.9 to 6.9.

The fact Van de Beek saw more of the ball reflects in his higher passing frequency (up to 38.8 per match from 33.1), and the accuracy of that distribution was 81 per cent, having been at 79 last term.

Understandably he did not average as many shots per game (down from 2.1 to 1.9), but his chance creation increased to 1.8 from 1.6 in 2018-19.

While these were mostly slight changes, it does highlight a suitability for the position – the fact his attacking productivity generally increased, even from a deeper role, speaks volumes for his influence, particularly given Ajax were widely accepted to have been less impressive collectively this term.

The best option for a defensive role?

From a defensive perspective, there were not major changes to Van de Beek's contributions in 2019-20. He still averaged five recoveries, one interception and two tackles per game, while his participation in duels (from 8.0 to 8.4) and duels won (from 4.2 to 4.4) were up slightly in all competitions.

But it is worth remembering Ajax were generally a dominant force in matches – they spent more time with the ball than without it, and Van de Beek's influence was most felt when they were on the attack.

Fred and Nemanja Matic – who also enjoyed something of a resurgence before the season's suspension – would likely be those most threatened by Van de Beek's arrival.

But both can claim a better frequency of interceptions, with Matic averaging 1.2 per Premier League game and Fred 1.4, while they also complete more passes per match – 46 and 53, respectively.

And although Van de Beek's all-action approach serves him well, Matic and Fred both out-do him with respect to average duels; the Serbian is involved in 10 per top-flight game, the Brazilian 12.

While neither boast Van de Beek's effectiveness in attack, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could argue that is not their job if occupying a deep position.

A replacement for Pogba?

While Van de Beek's game was not hurt by operating in a deeper role this term, he is clearly at his most useful when in possession, and he has also been praised for his clinical nature in front of goal.

After all, in the Eredivisie this season his expected goals (xG) was 5.5 but he scored eight times. Similarly, in the Champions League, he got a pair of goals despite his xG being 1.3.

Were United to sign Van de Beek as a deep-lying midfielder whom the defensive burden was on, there is a strong chance the Premier League would not see the best of him. It would be bold to expect a similar attacking output from him in England's top flight if he was also tasked with protecting the defence.

But if he was to be seen as a long-term replacement for Pogba, there is an equally arguable case that United's overall midfield unit could improve with his box-to-box capabilities.

Pogba – who has missed the majority of the 2019-20 season through injury – averaged 1.3 tackles and 0.5 interceptions in his 35 Premier League games last term, which is fewer than Van de Beek. And while people might be correct to point out the World Cup winner is more known for his creativity than his work off the ball, Van de Beek's average chance creation of 1.8 is also better than Pogba's 1.6 in 2018-19.

Either way, it seems likely Van de Beek would be a solid acquisition if United were able to snatch him from the grasp of Madrid – but his well-rounded game could see him pigeonholed and his influence limited.

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

 

Fuerte Apache, Buenos Aires is an imposing sight. Like a skyrise jungle domineering over the run-down surroundings of small shops and bars, it holds a certain aura that is probably not helped by its reputation.

Ejercito de los Andes, to give its original name, received its more familiar moniker after a shootout in the estate was broadcast live on the news. The 1981 film 'Fort Apache, The Bronx' is where the nickname came from, and it stuck.

Carlos Tevez is the barrio's most famous son. The former Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus and Argentina star's face is prominent in numerous places around the estate, with several murals dedicated to him.

While the biggest – and most iconic – piece in tribute to the forward can be seen on the north edge, facing away from the estate, there is another deep inside Fuerte Apache.

Here, fittingly, Tevez looks out over the football pitch of Roger 'Didi' Ruiz, the coach who discovered him, and where Argentina's next great hope crafted his skills.

First there was Tevez, now Fuerte Apache expects of Thiago Almada.

From Tevez's patch to Velez

As early as four years old, Almada – like Tevez before him – was playing with Club Santa Clara in Fuerte Apache. By five he was signed up by Velez Sarsfield, but he continued to represent his local side as well.

For Almada, a silky attacking midfielder, football has offered a legitimate route to a better life. Even though he accepts the area isn't quite as dangerous as it was in Tevez's time, trouble was still frequent in his youth.

"In the neighbourhood, there are a lot of people who chose the wrong path. It is one way or the other, and I also chose," he told Diario Clarin in 2017, when he was still a part of Velez's youth setup.

But he wouldn't be for much longer. A little over a year later, in August 2018, Almada made his first-team debut as a 17-year-old, appearing for 26 minutes in the 2018-19 Superliga opener against Newell's Old Boys.

He went on to play a total of 16 league matches that season under the tutelage of Gabriel Heinze, generally operating through the middle or off the left, but such prominence at a young age in Argentina does not go unnoticed by bigger European clubs, and it caused fractions.

Velez were understandably concerned about Almada being poached and, with his contract set to expire in June 2020, for a period it seemed realistic he could leave for pittance.

The situation led to speculation claiming Heinze had grown frustrated with Almada, though the coach furiously denied this in a news conference last year, saying: "Tell that journalist that he is a liar and he is absolutely wrong. There are two people here, it's me and it's Thiago. I tell him that they have a lying journalist and the information is a lie. My relationship with Thiago remains the same."

"All the goals were scored by him"

In September, Velez finally tied Almada down to a new four-year contract. As much as anything, it provided the Liniers club with greater financial security, increasing his release clause from a reported €14million to a figure that will reportedly reach €25m after August 31. Directors could breathe a sigh of relief.

Man City had been lurking. With reports of Almada's agent travelling to Europe for talks with other clubs, a feeling of deja vu would have been justifiable for Velez, who lost Benjamin Garre – a former youth-team colleague of Almada – to the Premier League giants for a nominal fee in 2016.

While Almada's rise has been impressive – he has played 22 times in the Superliga this term – it cannot be said that no one saw it coming.

Turu Flores, a former Velez player, spent five years on the coaching staff of the club's senior side, including a 12-month stint as head coach. In that time, watching the youth teams was a regular occurrence for him, and one kid always seemed to stand out.

"I've known Thiago since he was a child," Flores told Stats Perform News. "He is a friend of my son and already had an incredible impact when he was 14 years old. I remember him when he was 12, 13 or 14 years old. At that time I was working for Velez and I used to go and see him playing. He used to start as a central midfielder, but the matches would finish 3-0 or 4-0 and all the goals were scored by him. So, you could already envisage that he has the potential to make important things in football."

'Welcome to Manchester', part two?

A wonderful technician, it's easy to see why City might see Almada as a long-term replacement for David Silva, even if they already possess Phil Foden. But having missed out on him last year, there's reportedly growing interest from elsewhere – United, Inter and Atletico Madrid have all been mentioned as admirers.

It remains to be seen if Almada emulates Tevez and causes another tug-of-war between the Manchester giants, but whoever manages to prise him away from Velez will potentially get themselves a generational talent.

"He is very young and has a long journey ahead of him, a lot to learn, but he has incredible conditions," Flores adds. "He's got a great shot and amazing vision. His vision is not common anymore, you don't see it, or we haven't seen it for a long time. This kind of player comes from the playground, how he controls the ball, how he hits the ball. He is one of the last players that grew up in the street playgrounds."

That style of play is also reflected by his idolising of Juan Roman Riquelme, who invited him to a barbecue after seeing him play earlier this season. "He got my number, texted me and invited me. He is my idol – I could not believe it," Almada told Infobae in October.

Like Riquelme at Boca Juniors in the 1990s, Almada is already a significant influence at Velez despite being a teenager, even if only 10 of his league appearances this term have come as a starter.

With nine goals since making his debut, he is – remarkably – Velez's top-scorer, and only five players have featured more regularly than him.

In terms of chance creation, he's laid on 54 key passes since August 2018, the second most of Velez players, and his dribbling excellence is also quantifiable.

He has attempted 121 take-ons in senior football, completing 60 per cent – of Velez players, only Gaston Gimenez (67 per cent) has a better completion rate than Almada.

Explosive, technically outstanding and creative, there is much to like about his game. More dynamic than Riquelme and arguably a greater natural talent than Tevez, Almada's future looks exciting.

Tevez may have blazed a trail out of Fuerte Apache for Almada to follow, potentially even to Manchester, but there's every chance the teenager could one day be held in even higher regard than Carlitos.

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

 

Fuerte Apache, Buenos Aires is an imposing sight. Like a skyrise jungle domineering over the run-down surroundings of small shops and bars, it holds a certain aura that is probably not helped by its reputation.

Ejercito de los Andes, to give its original name, received its more familiar moniker after a shootout in the estate was broadcast live on the news. The 1981 film 'Fort Apache, The Bronx' is where the nickname came from, and it stuck.

Carlos Tevez is the barrio's most famous son. The former Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus and Argentina star's face is prominent in numerous places around the estate, with several murals dedicated to him.

While the biggest – and most iconic – piece in tribute to the forward can be seen on the north edge, facing away from the estate, there is another deep inside Fuerte Apache.

Here, fittingly, Tevez looks out over the football pitch of Roger 'Didi' Ruiz, the coach who discovered him, and where Argentina's next great hope crafted his skills.

First there was Tevez, now Fuerte Apache expects of Thiago Almada.

From Tevez's patch to Velez

As early as four years old, Almada – like Tevez before him – was playing with Club Santa Clara in Fuerte Apache. By five he was signed up by Velez Sarsfield, but he continued to represent his local side as well.

For Almada, a silky attacking midfielder, football has offered a legitimate route to a better life. Even though he accepts the area isn't quite as dangerous as it was in Tevez's time, trouble was still frequent in his youth.

"In the neighbourhood, there are a lot of people who chose the wrong path. It is one way or the other, and I also chose," he told Diario Clarin in 2017, when he was still a part of Velez's youth setup.

But he wouldn't be for much longer. A little over a year later, in August 2018, Almada made his first-team debut as a 17-year-old, appearing for 26 minutes in the 2018-19 Superliga opener against Newell's Old Boys.

He went on to play a total of 16 league matches that season under the tutelage of Gabriel Heinze, generally operating through the middle or off the left, but such prominence at a young age in Argentina does not go unnoticed by bigger European clubs, and it caused fractions.

Velez were understandably concerned about Almada being poached and, with his contract set to expire in June 2020, for a period it seemed realistic he could leave for pittance.

The situation led to speculation claiming Heinze had grown frustrated with Almada, though the coach furiously denied this in a news conference last year, saying: "Tell that journalist that he is a liar and he is absolutely wrong. There are two people here, it's me and it's Thiago. I tell him that they have a lying journalist and the information is a lie. My relationship with Thiago remains the same."

"All the goals were scored by him"

In September, Velez finally tied Almada down to a new four-year contract. As much as anything, it provided the Liniers club with greater financial security, increasing his release clause from a reported €14million to a figure that will reportedly reach €25m after August 31. Directors could breathe a sigh of relief.

Man City had been lurking. With reports of Almada's agent travelling to Europe for talks with other clubs, a feeling of deja vu would have been justifiable for Velez, who lost Benjamin Garre – a former youth-team colleague of Almada – to the Premier League giants for a nominal fee in 2016.

While Almada's rise has been impressive – he has played 22 times in the Superliga this term – it cannot be said that no one saw it coming.

Turu Flores, a former Velez player, spent five years on the coaching staff of the club's senior side, including a 12-month stint as head coach. In that time, watching the youth teams was a regular occurrence for him, and one kid always seemed to stand out.

"I've known Thiago since he was a child," Flores told Stats Perform News. "He is a friend of my son and already had an incredible impact when he was 14 years old. I remember him when he was 12, 13 or 14 years old. At that time I was working for Velez and I used to go and see him playing. He used to start as a central midfielder, but the matches would finish 3-0 or 4-0 and all the goals were scored by him. So, you could already envisage that he has the potential to make important things in football."

'Welcome to Manchester', part two?

A wonderful technician, it's easy to see why City might see Almada as a long-term replacement for David Silva, even if they already possess Phil Foden. But having missed out on him last year, there's reportedly growing interest from elsewhere – United, Inter and Atletico Madrid have all been mentioned as admirers.

It remains to be seen if Almada emulates Tevez and causes another tug-of-war between the Manchester giants, but whoever manages to prise him away from Velez will potentially get themselves a generational talent.

"He is very young and has a long journey ahead of him, a lot to learn, but he has incredible conditions," Flores adds. "He's got a great shot and amazing vision. His vision is not common anymore, you don't see it, or we haven't seen it for a long time. This kind of player comes from the playground, how he controls the ball, how he hits the ball. He is one of the last players that grew up in the street playgrounds."

That style of play is also reflected by his idolising of Juan Roman Riquelme, who invited him to a barbecue after seeing him play earlier this season. "He got my number, texted me and invited me. He is my idol – I could not believe it," Almada told Infobae in October.

Like Riquelme at Boca Juniors in the 1990s, Almada is already a significant influence at Velez despite being a teenager, even if only 10 of his league appearances this term have come as a starter.

With nine goals since making his debut, he is – remarkably – Velez's top-scorer, and only five players have featured more regularly than him.

In terms of chance creation, he's laid on 54 key passes since August 2018, the second most of Velez players, and his dribbling excellence is also quantifiable.

He has attempted 121 take-ons in senior football, completing 60 per cent – of Velez players, only Gaston Gimenez (67 per cent) has a better completion rate than Almada.

Explosive, technically outstanding and creative, there is much to like about his game. More dynamic than Riquelme and arguably a greater natural talent than Tevez, Almada's future looks exciting.

Tevez may have blazed a trail out of Fuerte Apache for Almada to follow, potentially even to Manchester, but there's every chance the teenager could one day be held in even higher regard than Carlitos.

June 7, 2009 was the date Roger Federer finally reigned at Roland Garros.

The Swiss completed his grand slam collection when beating Robin Soderling in the French Open final and, in doing so, equalled a record held by Pete Sampras.

This was also the date when 'The Last Dance' Chicago Bulls shut down the Utah Jazz in emphatic fashion in 1998.

Take a look at events that previously happened on this date through the years.

 

1996 - Chavez's century ends in defeat

Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya were both multi-weight world champions during their careers and a fight between the two was highly anticipated in 1996.

De La Hoya, who owned a 21-0 record heading into the bout, was 10 years younger and facing an opponent who was fighting for the 100th time, Chavez having won 97 of the previous 99.

However, the light-welterweight contest was short-lived, falling way short of the hype as Chavez suffered a serious cut in the opening round and eventually succumbed to a barrage in the fourth, unable to continue after De La Hoya's left hook broke his nose.

Chavez would fight for another seven years, however, finishing with a 107-6-2 record, while De La Hoya retired in 2008 following losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao.

 

1998 - Jazz fail to hit the right notes as Bulls gain Finals advantage

The series was finely poised at 1-1 when the Bulls and Jazz tipped off in Game 3 of the 1998 NBA Finals.

What followed was the most dominant victory in Finals history as the Bulls won by 42 points, 96-54, as Utah scored what was at the time the lowest total in an NBA game since the inception of the shot clock.

Despite Karl Malone's 22 points, the Jazz went 13-of-59 from the floor as Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and the rest of Chicago's defense delivered a performance that swung the series in their favour.

Chicago would go on to win the Finals 4-2, delivering a second three-peat to end a glorious run in the Windy City for Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson.

2009 - Finally for Federer

Having already triumphed at the other three slams, a French Open title had evaded Federer, thanks mainly due to the presence of Rafael Nadal.

However, in 2009 the Spaniard was suddenly out of the picture after a shock fourth-round loss to Soderling, who would go on to set up a final against Federer.

The showdown proved a mismatch; Federer eased to a 6-1 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 triumph in under two hours to win his 14th grand slam title.

In doing so he equalled Sampras' all-time record, with Federer eclipsing the American's haul with victory at Wimbledon later that year when he overcame Andy Roddick in an epic encounter.

Rafael Nadal has celebrated plenty of times on Court Philippe Chatrier, but the jubilation he felt on June 5, 2005 is likely to live with him forever.

It was on this day 15 years ago when 'The King of Clay' won the first of his, to date, record 12 French Open titles.

Novak Djokovic and Francesca Schiavone were also crowned champions on June 5 in years gone by, while Michael Jordan produced one of the shots of his career in the 1991 NBA Finals.

Here we take a look at the most memorable sports events to have occurred on June 5.

 

1991 - Mid-Air Jordan switches hands for stunning lay-up

At this point 29 years ago Jordan was still the nearly man; a two-time MVP who had yet to win a championship ring.

The Chicago Bulls had lost Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers too, but they would level the series at home with a convincing 107-86 victory in Game 2 as Jordan scored 33 points.

But his display that night is best remembered for a single shot in the third quarter. Jordan drove towards the basket ready for a right-handed dunk, only to switch the ball into his left hand in mid-air upon seeing Sam Perkins and somehow flip a shot up off the glass and through the net to astound those in Chicago Stadium.

The Bulls would go on to win the series 4-1, beginning a dynasty that would see them dominate the NBA for most of the next decade.

 

2005 - Nadal begins French Open dominance

At this point 15 years ago Nadal was still a promising teenager hoping to win his first grand slam.

However, he was considered the favourite in the final against Mariano Puerta, having won three clay-court tournaments in the build up to the French Open and, despite dropping the first set, he would emerge victorious 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 6-1 7-5.

Nadal has won all but three French Opens since, though on June 5, 2016, it was Djokovic lifting the trophy as he beat Andy Murray in four sets to complete a career grand slam.

 

2009 - England stunned in World Twenty20 opener

Eleven years ago England suffered one of their most humiliating losses in any format.

In the opening game of the second World Twenty20 tournament, the hosts were expected to encounter few difficulties against the Netherlands at Lord's.

With England, who failed to hit a single six, having made 162-5 first up after being restricted to 73 in the second half of their innings, it came down to the chasing side needing two off the final ball to clinch a famous victory.

And they got them in farcical fashion as Stuart Broad's overthrow allowed Edgar Schiferli to scamper through for a second, sealing an incredible four-wicket win for the Netherlands.

 

2010 - Schiavone makes grand slam history

Tennis fans had become accustomed to the sight of Nadal winning grand slams by 2010 when Schiavone became the first Italian woman to reach a major singles final.

The 17th seed was up against Australia's Sam Stosur – who had beaten Justine Henin and Serena Williams along the way – and it was Schiavone who came out on top 6-4 7-6 (7-2).

Schiavone not only became the first Italian woman to win a grand slam singles title, but she was also the second-lowest ranked woman to win at Roland Garros in the Open era.

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."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.