Despite an incredible comeback against Liverpool to book their place in the Champions League quarter-finals, 2019-20 was looking like far from a vintage season for Atletico Madrid.

Diego Simeone's side sat sixth in LaLiga when the coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of most sport around the world and had suffered a humiliating Copa del Rey exit to third-tier Cultural Leonesa in January.

However, six years ago they took a significant step in one of the most memorable campaigns in their history.

We look back at that and other standout sporting moments that occurred on April 9 through the years.

 

1912 – A Fenway first

It may not quite have been finished yet, but Fenway Park opened its doors for the first time for an exhibition match between the Boston Red Sox and the Harvard Crimson. After being forced to change at the nearby Park Riding School due to the clubhouse not being open yet, the players trudged through the snowy conditions to the diamond for the start of a new era. Casey Hageman threw Fenway Park's first pitch for the Red Sox to Harvard batter Dana Joseph Paine Wingate and he soon had the first of nine strikeouts.

1989 – Faldo in green

After heading into moving day in a tie for the lead, Faldo's hopes of triumphing at Augusta National and winning a second major appeared to be over when he slipped five shots off the pace upon completing his third round on Sunday morning. However, he ended up with the clubhouse lead later in the day by carding a brilliant seven-under 65 and a missed five-foot par putt on the 17th for Scott Hoch meant the two went into a play-off. Hoch's putting again let him down as he failed to close out the first sudden-death hole from two feet, and Faldo punished him by rolling in a 25-foot birdie putt at the next to don the green jacket for the first time. He would go on to win the tournament twice more.

1995 – Tendulkar shows signs of greatness to come

At the age of 21, the man who would go on to be dubbed the 'Little Master' scored his fourth ODI century as India defeated Sri Lanka in an Asia Cup match in Sharjah. Thanks to Tendulkar's outstanding 112 not out, India chased down their victory target of 203 with just under 17 of their 50 overs remaining. Tendulkar consequently became the youngest player to reach 3,000 ODI runs.

2013 – Dortmund deliver incredible comeback

There is something special about Champions League nights at Signal Iduna Park and the second leg of Dortmund's quarter-final against Malaga delivered a thoroughly memorable game. After a 0-0 draw in the first leg at La Rosaleda, Joaquin put Malaga ahead in the 25th minute, but Robert Lewandowski ensured Jurgen Klopp's side went into half-time on level terms. The writing appeared to be on the wall for Dortmund when Eliseu tapped in a second away goal from close range with eight minutes remaining, leaving the hosts needing to score twice more to avoid elimination. Marco Reus pulled them level in the first added minute and Felipe Santana bundled home in the 93rd minute to complete an incredible turnaround – though he appeared to be offside when he turned Julian Schieber's goal-bound effort home.

2014 – Atletico back in the semi-finals

Simeone led Atletico to Europa League glory in his first season at the helm and added the Copa del Rey and UEFA Super Cup in 2012-13. They appeared to be destined for new heights when they claimed a 1-0 victory over Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon to seal a 2-1 aggregate victory and book their place in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 1974. Koke's back-post volley kept Atletico's hopes of a Champions League and LaLiga double alive, but they were only able to win the latter after Real Madrid beat them in the European final in Lisbon.

The resumption of football in Europe's top five leagues still appears some way off due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving players with plenty of time to analyse their performances this season.

Using Opta data, we have already examined some of the worst attacking, passing, defending and goalkeeping numbers from 2019-20, but who has been letting the side down with shoddy discipline.

We have analysed five metrics for players now operating under the increasing scrutiny of VAR across the elite divisions.

These include the worst offenders in terms of fouls conceded, penalties conceded, offsides, yellow cards and red cards.

Check out our list of shame below, which is not the who's who of hotheads you might expect, while a lack of minutes on the field does not necessarily mean a player cannot irritate the officials.

THE WORST FOUL STATS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

BUNDESLIGA:

Most fouls conceded: Robert Andrich (52) 
Most penalties conceded: Dedryck Boyata (3)
Most offsides: Timo Werner (35)
Most yellow cards: Klaus Gjasula (12)
Most red cards: Leon Bailey (2)

LALIGA:

Most fouls conceded: Jaime Mata (67)
Most penalties conceded: Ruben Duarte (4)
Most offsides: Alvaro Morata (28)
Most yellow cards: Gerard Pique (12)
Most red cards: Facundo Roncaglia, Zouhair Feddal, Clement Lenglet (all 2)

LIGUE 1:

Most fouls conceded: Andy Delort (69)
Most penalties conceded: Mathieu Debuchy (3)
Most offsides: Victor Osimhen (33)
Most yellow cards: Nicolas Pallois (10)
Most red cards: Ruben Aguilar, Racine Coly, Steven Moreira, Boubakary Soumare, Marcal, Anthony Briancon, Jacques-Alaixys Romao (all 2)

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most fouls conceded: Etienne Capoue (47)
Most penalties conceded: David Luiz (3)
Most offsides: Chris Wood (31)
Most yellow cards: Jorginho (10)
Most red cards: Christian Kabasele (2)

SERIE A:

Most fouls conceded: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (52)
Most penalties conceded: Koray Gunter (3)
Most offsides: Cristiano Ronaldo, Rodrigo Palacio (both 21)
Most yellow cards: Ismael Bennacer (12)
Most red cards: Bremer, Federico Marchetti, Pawel Dawidowicz, Armando Izzo, Davide Calabria (all 2)

AND THE TOP FIVE:

Most fouls conceded: Andy Delort (69)
Most penalties conceded: Ruben Duarte (4)
Most offsides: Timo Werner (35)
Most yellow cards: Ismael Bennacer (12 in 1,620 minutes played)
Most red cards: Federico Marchetti (2 despite not playing a single minute of Lazio's Serie A season!)

On the eve of what would have been the opening round of this year's Masters, we take a look back at seven magic moments from the Augusta archives.

1935 - Gene Sarazen hits 'the shot heard around the world'

The Masters was established in 1934, but it was in the following year that the tournament really captured people's attention - thanks largely to a stunning albatross that helped Gene Sarazen to victory. Sarazen trailed Craig Wood by three shots as he headed to the 15th tee, but wiped out that deficit in sensational fashion by holing his second shot with a 4-wood from 235 yards. He went on to claim his seventh and final major title in a Monday play-off, although Wood finally tasted success at Augusta six years later. The Sarazen Bridge at Augusta's 15th hole commemorates one of the most famous shots in the history of golf.

1986 - The Golden Bear rolls back the years

The legendary Jack Nicklaus remains the oldest winner of The Masters, having claimed victory in the 50th staging of the tournament at the age of 46. Nicklaus' 18th major title - a total that has yet to be surpassed - was secured by a remarkable late-round surge on Sunday that saw the 'Golden Bear' follow an eagle at 15 with successive birdies to reach nine under. As his putt for a three at the par-four 17th dropped, giving Nicklaus the lead for the first time in the tournament, the veteran raised his putter in the air and adopted a pose that would soon become iconic.

1987 - Local hero Mize leaves Norman stunned

Few people gave Larry Mize a chance when he went up against Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros in a sudden-death play-off at the 1987 Masters. A relatively unheralded Augusta native, Mize had won only one previous event on the PGA Tour and was unsurprisingly viewed as a rank outsider in a battle with two of the world's best. However, Ballesteros bowed out with a bogey at the first play-off hole, the 10th, and Mize then claimed glory courtesy of a magnificent birdie on the par-four 11th. Having missed the green to the right, and with Norman on the front edge in two, Mize remarkably chipped in before bounding on to the putting surface in celebration. "It was total elation," he told Perform ahead of this year's event. "I was just running around screaming like a mad man." Norman missed his birdie putt and mentions of 'Larry Mize country' are frequently heard on Masters commentary to this day when players go right at the 11th.

2004 - Mickelson breaks major duck

Having long held the unwanted tag of being the best player never to win a major, Phil Mickelson answered his critics on April 11, 2004 by coming out on top in one of the most thrilling conclusions in Masters history. 'Lefty' had eight top-three finishes in majors to his name, but had yet to land one of the game's biggest titles when he began his final round level with Chris DiMarco at the top of the leaderboard. A familiar outcome appeared likely when Mickelson played his first six holes in two over par, but he responded by birdieing five of the last seven, including the 18th, to pip Ernie Els in a titanic duel. His successful 18-foot putt for a three at the final hole sparked scenes of unbridled joy and a delighted Mickelson said: "To have it be such a difficult journey to win my first major makes it that much more sweeter."

2005 - 'That' Tiger Woods chip

DiMarco topped the leaderboard after each of the first two rounds in 2005, only for Tiger Woods to storm into a three-stroke lead courtesy of a third-round 65 played across two days due to inclement weather. To his credit, DiMarco fought back in the final round and was only one behind Woods as both players approached the par-three 16th. When the underdog hit the green with his tee shot and Woods missed the target, their battle looked set to go right down to the wire. Woods had other ideas, however, as he made birdie courtesy of a sublime chip that saw him aim well left of the hole and use the slope of the putting surface to great effect. The world number one's ball hovered on the edge of the cup for what seemed an eternity before finally toppling in to deafening applause. CBS commentator Verne Lundquist summed up the drama by screaming "Oh, wow! In your life, have you seen anything like that?!" Woods was made to work hard for his fourth green jacket as he bogeyed the next two holes before eventually prevailing in a play-off.

2012 - Bubba produces miracle hook

There were nerves aplenty when another play-off was required to decide the champion at Augusta in 2012. Bubba Watson and 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen started off the sudden-death decider by each parring the 18th and then finding the woods on the right of the 10th, the second play-off hole. Oosthuizen came up short of the green with his second and there appeared little chance of Watson improving on his rival's effort. However, the maverick left-hander duly produced a miraculous escape from the pine straw, hooking his ball around the trees and onto the green. When Oosthuizen failed to get up and down, Watson was left with two putts to win and made no mistake in securing the first of two green jackets to date.

2017 - Sergio's major wait finally ends

In a sport of fine margins, Sergio Garcia was probably golf's ultimate nearly man. The Spaniard was tipped for the top from a young age, underlining his vast potential with a runner-up finish at the 1999 US PGA Championship, when he was just 19. However, that close brush with glory set the tone for a career that was for a long time defined by heartbreak. In 2002, Garcia placed in the top 10 at all four majors. Heading into the 2017 Masters, he had 22 top-10 finishes in the quartet of headline events, but no victories to show for his efforts from 73 attempts. In 2017, he stood over a five-foot putt to win The Masters on the 72nd hole, with Justin Rose an anxious onlooker. Garcia missed, leading to a play-off with Rose. It was there that Garcia finally ended his long wait for major success, coolly sinking a birdie putt to secure the green jacket.

2019 - Woods wins again to end near 11-year major drought

Woods' 2018 Tour Championship success hinted his comeback was on the right track and his return to the upper echelons of the game was completed with a remarkable victory. Fifteen years after his previous Augusta title, and almost 11 years after he last won a major, Woods put years of off-course issues and injury problems behind him. As overnight leader Francesco Molinari capitulated, Woods remained strong, using all his experience to finish with a two-under-par 70 to win on 13 under, one clear of fellow Americans Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka. There were raucous celebrations on the 18th green as Woods celebrated with his children. He said: "To have my kids there, it's come full circle. My dad was here in 1997 and now I'm the dad with two kids there. It will be up there with one of the hardest I've had to win because of what has transpired in the last couple of years."

Golf's tradition like no other has been pushed back by seven months, meaning Tiger Woods will have to wait to treat his fellow past Masters winners to the Champions Dinner for the fifth time.

History suggests that when Woods does settle on his menu choices, there is a strong chance a porterhouse steak will be the entree.

Woods has twice selected that cut of beef as the star of the show on his menu, doing so in successive years in 2002 and 2003.

The 15-time major winner has a long time to mull over his options for this year's feast and he may have to pull out all the stops to match some of the delights that have been served up since he last set the menu back in 2006.

Here we pick out some of the best and worst Champions Dinners from years gone by.

 

FINE FEASTS

1998: Tiger Woods - Cheeseburgers, Chicken sandwiches, french fries, milkshakes

Sometimes keeping it simple is the best way to go, and that is what Woods did a year after his maiden Masters win in 1997. He went with four staples of American fast food. Nothing fancy, but more than enough to whet the appetite.

2001: Vijay Singh - Seafood tom kah, chicken panang curry, baked sea scallops with garlic sauce, rack of lamb with yellow kari sauce, baked fillet Chilean sea bass with three flavour chili sauce, lychee sorbet.

The Big Fijian dished out big flavours in his lone Champions Dinner. The sea bass with three flavour chili sauce might have left some of the diners sweating, but at least they had a refreshing lychee sorbet to cool them off.

2010: Angel Cabrera - An Argentine asado, a multi-course barbecue featuring chorizo, blood sausage, short ribs, beef filets and mollejas (the thymus gland/sweetbreads).

Cabrera marked the one-year anniversary of his second major win by going for a meat lover's dream from his homeland. The only surprise being that the man known as El Pato did not add duck to the menu.

2016: Jordan Spieth - Salad of local greens; main course of Texas barbecue (beef brisket, smoked half chicken, pork ribs); sides of BBQ baked beans, bacon and chive potato salad, sauteed green beans, grilled zucchini, roasted yellow squash; dessert of warm chocolate chip cookie, vanilla ice cream.

It was no shock that the Texan went with a barbecue. When cooked correctly, there are few things more delectable than a tender brisket. While that meal must have gone down well, the fourth-round collapse that followed a few days later was tough to swallow for Spieth.

2018: Sergio Garcia - International salad (ingredients representing the countries of past champions); arroz caldoso de bogavante (a traditional Spanish lobster rice); tres leches cake with tres leches ice cream. 

A universally popular victor in 2017, Garcia played to the crowd in 2018 by including ingredients from the countries of past champions in his starter. The use of his mother's recipe for the desert made this classic Spanish fare a winner.

DOG'S DINNERS

1989: Sandy Lyle - Haggis, mashed potatoes, mashed turnips

Haggis is very much an acquired taste, and Lyle didn't exactly give the diners much to enjoy away from the Scottish savoury pudding with two bland side dishes.

1994: Bernhard Langer - Turkey and dressing; black forest torte

Without knowing the dressing, it's tough to give a full verdict on Langer's choice but opting for famously dry meat outside of Thanksgiving or Christmas Day is an odd decision.

1997: Nick Faldo - Fish and chips, tomato soup

Fish and chips is a universally popular British classic, but Faldo's decision to put it alongside tomato soup makes for a strange pairing.

2015: Bubba Watson - Traditional Caesar salad; grilled chicken breast with sides of green beans, mashed potatoes, corn, macaroni and cheese, served with cornbread; confetti cake and vanilla ice cream.

Two years on from his first Champions Dinner in 2013, Watson produced exactly the same menu. Surely a golfer with Watson's reputation for the unorthodox knows that variety is the spice of life? 

2017: Danny Willett - Mini cottage pies; a traditional Sunday roast (prime rib, roasted potatoes and vegetables, Yorkshire pudding); apple crumble and vanilla custard; coffee and tea with English cheese and biscuits, plus a selection of wines.

The Sunday roast is another British favourite. However, the combination of that entree with cottage pies and an apple crumble is an overly heavy one.

Tony Ferguson may have been frustratingly made to wait to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov once again but he is not the only man UFC fans are longing for him to face and the prospect of a showdown with Conor McGregor is enticing.

Khabib was supposed to defend his lightweight strap against Ferguson in a huge fight in Brooklyn this month, only for the coronavirus pandemic to put paid to the bout.

It was the fifth time the two have had a scheduled fight cancelled and Ferguson will instead face Justin Gaethje at a venue yet to be decided.

Should Ferguson win that fight a long-awaited date with Khabib must surely happen but you would expect at some point he will dance with the big-talking McGregor as well.

In the seventh instalment of the UFC dream fights we would love to see, we delve further into the records of Ferguson and McGregor.


WHY DO WE WANT TO SEE THIS FIGHT?

The lightweight division is one of the most congested in UFC in terms of top-level fighters and Ferguson has long-since sought a huge bout with Khabib or McGregor.

None of the three men have ever ducked a challenge and with McGregor having reignited his love of the fight game there would be few trickier tests than Ferguson.

Khabib is the man to topple at 145lbs right now, but McGregor versus Ferguson is certainly a fight that would get tails wagging.


GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS

McGregor is a Hall of Fame shoo-in and a man who is credited with elevating UFC to new levels.

The Irishman is a trailblazer in MMA and knocked out the fearsome Jose Aldo to win the featherweight title in 2015, just a year later he was a class above Eddie Alvarez to secure the lightweight strap – thus becoming the first man in UFC history to hold two belts in two weight divisions simultaneously. 

Rafael dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone – who McGregor defeated in his latest comeback – are among the names to have fallen to Ferguson.

In October 2017, Ferguson beat Kevin Lee in an interim lightweight title bout.


WHAT'S THEIR MMA RECORD (W-L-D)?

McGregor: 22-4-0

Ferguson: 26-3-0


TALE OF THE TAPE

McGregor:

Age: 31
Height: 5' 9" (175 cm)
Weight: 155 lbs (70 kg)
Reach 74"
Leg Reach: 40"

Ferguson:

Age: 36
Height: 5'11" (180cm)
Weight: 155lbs (70kg)
Reach: 76"
Leg Reach: 40"


WHAT THEY'VE SAID ABOUT A POTENTIAL FIGHT

"One thing I can tell you is that I have never backed down from fighting anyone, anywhere, and that holds true today," McGregor replied when asked about fighting the winner of Khabib-Ferguson, prior to the fight's cancellation, last month.

"Nobody else deserves that a** whopping [other than] two people: that's McNuggets and Team Tiramisu. That is Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor," Ferguson may be fighting Gaethje but, after Khabib pulled out of UFC 249, he was clear on the two opponents he wants to face.


FIGHT STATS IN UFC

McGregor:

- McGregor has a 49 per cent significant strike success rate. Out of 1,110 such attempts, 543 have landed. 77 per cent of these strikes come from a standing position, with 13 per cent from the ground.

- The Irishman averages 5.43 significant strikes landed per minute and absorbs 4.4.

- In defence, McGregor has avoided 55 per cent of significant strikes, and seen off 70 per cent of takedown attempts.

- The majority of McGregor's attempts are to the head, with 383 (71 per cent) landed in that area, compared to 92 (17 per cent) and 68 (13 per cent) to the body and legs.

Ferguson:

- Ferguson has connected with 936 of his 2065 attempted significant strikes.

- That gives him a significant strikes success rate of 45 per cent.

- He has attempted 90 per cent of his strikes from a standing position.

- In terms of defence, Ferguson has guarded against 75 per cent of takedown attempts and avoided 64 per cent of strikes.

Paris Saint-Germain were firmly on course to claim a seventh Ligue 1 title in eight years before the coronavirus pandemic meant the season was shutdown.

Thomas Tuchel's side had also progressed into the Champions League quarter-finals having edged past a vibrant Borussia Dortmund 3-2 on aggregate.

The second leg of that contest saw PSG win 2-0 in the French capital with Neymar netting the opener with a rare header.

It has been a strong season from the Brazil international with 17 goals in 21 games in all competitions.

Here, he picks his top five moments of 2019-20.


5 - The Dortmund comeback (March 11, 2020)

Having lost the first leg of their last-16 tie 2-1 in Germany, PSG needed the kind of comeback that hasn't always been their hallmark in the Champions League.

And it was Neymar who set them on their way with a diving header from Angel Di Maria's 28th-minute corner.

Juan Bernat made it 2-0 on the night as the hosts went through before celebrating wildly with fans that had congregated outside the Parc des Princes, defying orders around coronavirus.

"I was anxious for this game," Neymar told NN Consultoria.

"The days before that were some of the tensest. But I believe that, above all else, the group was united and every player, from the most experienced ones to the youngest, were all essential for this victory.

"The night was special. It looked like the Libertadores! The crowd outside the stadium received us on the streets with an unbelievable party."

 


4 - Lyon crushed (March 4, 2020)

Neymar was happy to play a supporting role as a Kylian Mbappe hat-trick inspired PSG to a 5-1 thrashing of Lyon in the Coupe de France semi-final.

Neymar and Pablo Sarabia also netted as PSG again confirmed their domestic superiority.

"Lyon cause us trouble in every game we play against them," said Neymar.

"The score doesn't show how hard this game was. This game was Mbappe's and he was essential in the victory."


3 - Neymar double honours Kobe (January 26, 2020)

As news of a helicopter crash involving NBA legend Kobe Bryant circulated on social media, Neymar paid his respects with a brace as PSG won 2-0 at Lille.

The former Barcelona star opened the scoring following a one-two with Marco Verratti before adding a second-half penalty.

"Kobe’s death affected me a lot," said Neymar.

"I had the pleasure of meeting him and learning from this star of sport, an idol for me. We got to know what happened during half-time. We were very sad, really sad. It was a tough game and the news, instead of knocking us down, made us bigger."


2 - Late joy at Lyon (September 22, 2019)

PSG moved three points clear at the top of Ligue 1 after Neymar grabbed an 87th-minute winner at Lyon.

The hosts withstood some strong PSG pressure but could do little as Neymar turned beautifully in the box to fire into the corner.

"There was lots of pressure on this game, but at the end of it the goal came," Neymar said.

"I received a pass from Di María and, thanks to God, I made the right option and was very happy. I turned my body around and got it on my left foot. An important goal."

 


1 - Silencing the critics (September 14, 2019)

Having missed the first four Ligue 1 games of the season after attempting to engineer a move back to Barcelona, Neymar made a stunning return.

He was booed by the Parc des Princes faithful when his name was read out, and throughout a tense encounter, but the Brazilian had the final say.

With the game in injury-time, Neymar latched on to Abdou Diallo's cross and conjured up an incredible overhead kick to win the game.

He said: "I needed a goal at any cost, it was very important for me and for PSG. I knew that a goal could change the history of this season, so I chased it with all I had.

"It was almost at the end of the game when Diallo launched the ball, there was no choice other than to try a bicycle kick. God blessed me and the ball went in.

"I put this goal as one of the most important goals of my career."

The Masters is one of the most storied events in sport.

Thursday was scheduled to be the opening day of the 2020 edition, but the coronavirus pandemic put paid to that.

Still, the Augusta major's rich history leaves plenty for us to look back on.

Here is a selection of the best Opta facts relating to what is traditionally the first major of the year...

 

- The US has dominated this major, with 61 of the 83 editions of the tournament having been won by Americans. 

- Jack Nicklaus holds the record for most wins at the Masters (6), ahead of Tiger Woods (5).

- Woods is the youngest player to wear the green jacket, having been 21 years, 104 days old when he triumphed in 1997.

- Nicklaus is the oldest to claim victory, doing so in 1986 when he was 46 years, 82 days old.

- The Masters is the only major in which Woods has always made the cut as a professional (20 out of 20).

- Fuzzy Zoeller is the last player to win the Masters at the first attempt, back in 1979.

- With his 2019 victory, Woods became only the second player over the age of 40 to have won a major on US soil in the 21st century, with Vijay Singh having lifted the 2004 US PGA Championship when he was 41.

- Only three players have won back-to-back green jackets - Woods (2001, 2002), Nicklaus (1965, 1966) and Nick Faldo (1989, 1990).

- Rory McIlroy just needs to add the Masters to his major collection to complete a career Grand Slam, which would see him join a club that includes Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Nicklaus and Woods.

- The Masters is the only major tournament where Jordan Spieth has finished inside the Top 25 on each appearance (6/6).

- Only one of the last 43 Masters tournaments saw a wire-to-wire victory – Spieth in 2015.

Few players have had an impact on Premier League football like Alan Shearer, the greatest goalscorer the competition has seen.

The former England striker started out at Southampton in the old First Division, before going on to enjoy goal-laden spells with Blackburn Rovers and the club he supported as a boy, Newcastle United.

His impact was significant at all three, but his legacy is arguably felt the most at St. James' Park, where he spent the final 10 seasons of his career.

His goalscoring feats began on this day in 1988, but April 8 has also proven momentous in baseball, as we examine below.

1974 - Hank Aaron overtakes Babe Ruth

For many years after Babe Ruth's retirement in 1935, his record of 714 home runs looked unbeatable until 'Hammerin' Hank' Aarons became the first to surpass Ruth on April 8 ,1974. He might have done so earlier were it not for racially motivated death threats so prolific that his team – the Atlanta Braves – had to hire him a secretary to sift through it. The US Postal Service believe he received more than 930,000 pieces – positive and negative – in 1973. He broke Ruth's record against the Los Angeles Dodgers and later retired on 755, a record which stood for 33 years until Barry Bonds went beyond it in August 2007.

1988 - Alan Shearer makes his mark

Over 400 goals in professional football at international and club level,  it all started for Shearer on April 8, 1988. Then at Southampton, a 17-year-old Shearer had already made some substitute appearances, but with Arsenal visiting The Dell, he was afforded a first league start. In a 4-2 win, Shearer scored a hat-trick, becoming the youngest player to do so in top-flight history at 17 years and 240 days old. He went on to make a habit of setting new records over the following 18 years.

1989 - One-handed pitcher Jim Abbott debuts

There aren't many sports where manual dexterity is more crucial than in baseball. That said, Jim Abbott enjoyed a successful career in MLB despite only being born with his left hand. He pitched for the California Angels, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, starting out for the former, where he made his debut 31 years ago.

Football at the highest level in Europe is at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there remains plenty to play for in France's 2019-20 Ligue 1 campaign.

When the virus hit, causing lockdowns and mass sporting postponements, it was just as the seasons were heading towards their conclusion.

Debate has raged across the continent as to how the campaigns can be salvaged, but most league bodies are leaning towards a continuing determination to wrap up this term before wading into 2020-21.

As football waits for the virus threat to subside, and for normal life to return, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers behind the scenes.

Most teams in Ligue 1 have 10 matches still to play - only leaders Paris Saint-Germain and mid-table Strasbourg have 11 remaining - and the goal was to simulate how the season would pan out if the games were played now, to produce a final 2019-20 table.

 

The data 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.

Here, then, is a close look at the results of the simulation with the simulated final league standings.

 

PSG STORM TO TITLE HAT-TRICK

A third Ligue 1 triumph in succession, and a seventh in the last eight years, had long looked an inevitability.

Our model shows Paris Saint-Germain sweeping to glory with 94 points, pulling 23 points clear of second-placed Marseille.

That beats their total from each of the last two seasons - 93 in 2017-18 and 91 in 2018-19 - and confirms PSG remain streets ahead in France.

Thomas Tuchel's side, with the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in their ranks, have a budget that far exceeds the rest, and another 90-points-plus campaign shows how far they are ahead of the rest.

MARSEILLE SETTLE FOR SECOND

Andre Villas-Boas has rejuvenated Marseille and bolstered his reputation as a leading coach this season, and second place became theirs for the taking.

The AI verdict shows them nailing down the runners-up position, albeit by taking just 15 points from the last 10 rounds of matches.

There had been a momentary stumble from Marseille before the league was halted, with a rare home defeat to Nantes followed by a narrow win at Nimes and a Stade Velodrome 2-2 draw with relegation-threatened Amiens.

Yet a return to the Champions League is on the cards, the simulation shows, with Marseille securing their highest Ligue 1 finish since the 2012-13 season, when they were also runners-up to PSG.

Rennes, meanwhile, are set for a Champions League debut in 2020-21, with Julien Stephan's team pipping Lille to third place despite both teams finishing on 62 points.

 

A LILLE DISAPPOINTMENT

Fourth place represents a blow to Lille, and their coach Christophe Galtier, after last season's second-placed finish.

It earns them another season in European football, but in the Europa League rather than a return to the Champions League.

Lille and Rennes were jostling for third spot when the season reached its unnatural break, and Galtier would have been optimistic his side would have been able to overturn their one-point deficit at the 28-game stage.

The plus point for Lille is that at least the AI simulation does not see them stumbling any further down the table, with the likes of Lyon, Monaco and Nice too far back to mount a challenge.

Just four points separated fifth from 13th place when the league was stopped in March, but an eight-point gap to the top four meant these teams were always likely to be playing for pride.

Reims, who sat fifth, dip to ninth place at the season's end.

THE SINKING, SUNK

It's au revoir to Amiens and Toulouse.

Toulouse had already looked doomed, sitting on 13 points from 28 games, and despite the Stats Perform AI suggesting they would pick up a further 10 points from the final 10 games, it would not be nearly enough.

It was a bleak picture as well for Amiens, who were too far off the pace after racking up just four wins before the virus struck down football.

Nimes are projected to finish 18th and face a relegation play-off, despite a blitz of wins in February that sent optimism surging through Bernard Blaquart's side.

Les Crocodiles beat Monaco, Dijon, Nice and Angers in a 15-day burst before defeats to Rennes, Marseille and Metz left Nimes back in the mire, three points shy of Saint-Etienne and Dijon, the teams perched precariously outside the bottom three.

Nimes would fall short of repeating their four-in-a-row heroics over the run-in, according to the simulated results, leaving the team that finished ninth after promotion last season within two games of sinking back to Ligue 2.

Thomas Muller's love affair with Bayern Munich is set to continue until at least 2023 after the Germany great signed a contract extension on Tuesday.

Rumblings that Muller may consider his future at the Allianz Arena at the end of the season have now been emphatically quashed, with the 30-year-old remaining, at least for now, a one-club man.

Since making his debut in 2008, Muller – a 2014 World Cup winner – has established himself as one of the best to ever pull on a Bayern shirt.

With the help of Opta data, we have crunched the number's behind Muller's Bayern career.


CLOSING ON BECKENBAUER AND RUMMENIGGE

Muller will forever be regarded as an all-time Bayern great.

Only six players can boast more than his 521 appearances in all competitions for Die Roten, with Franz Beckenbauer his next target to overtake.

In that time, Muller has scored an impressive 195 goals. Only Gerd Muller, Robert Lewandowski and Karl-Keinz Rummenigge can lay claim to more.

Muller is equally important for his creativity and he has contributed 146 assists to Bayern's cause, meaning in total he has 341 goal involvements, contributing to a goal every 112 minutes.


ENJOYING LIFE UNDER FLICK

At times, it looked as though Muller's role under previous bosses Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac was becoming increasingly isolated.

But under Hansi Flick, who signed a three-year deal last week, Muller has simply flourished.

He is one of just three players (alongside Alphonso Davies and Manuel Neuer) to feature in all 21 games under Flick and his 21 goal involvements (eight goals and 13 assists) playing for the coach is bettered only by Lewandowski's 24.

Muller has provided 16 assists in total in the Bundesliga this term – a joint record with Kevin De Bruyne after 25 rounds in the top flight.

There is still time for Muller to break De Bruyne's record of 20 assists in a single Bundesliga campaign, which he managed playing for Wolfsburg in 2014-15. 


MULLER'S MILESTONES

- Muller made his competitive debut for the first team on the opening day of the 2008-09 Bundesliga season, coming on as a substitute for Miroslav Klose after 79 minutes in Bayern's 2-2 draw with Hamburg under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

- Aged 19 years, five months and 25 days Muller made his Champions League debut in March 2009 when Bayern hammered Sporting CP 7-1. He also scored his first goal for the first team in the 90th minute.

- His first two Bundesliga goals followed in a 5-1 win at Dortmund on September 12 2009, just a day before his 20th birthday.

- Like team-mate David Alaba, Muller has won eight Bundesliga titles – his former team-mate Franck Ribery (nine) is the only player to win the Bundesliga more often.

- Muller has won 247 Bundesliga games (as many as Claudio Pizarro). Only six players have won more matches in the German top-flight, Philipp Lahm (250) is just three wins away in fourth place.

- On May 1, 2010, Muller celebrated his first hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Bochum, making him the youngest player ever to score a hat-trick for Bayern in the Bundesliga, a record he still owns today.

- His best season came in 2015-16, when he was directly involved in 25 Bundesliga goals in 31 appearances (20 goals, five assists). In all competitions, he managed 32 goals and 10 assists.

- Kovac's last game as Bayern boss, the heavy 5-1 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt last November, was also Muller's 500th game for Bayern in all competitions. 

- In the 4-0 victory over Dortmund in November, Muller became the first player to reach 100 Bundesliga assists since the start of detailed data collection in 2004-05.

Hansi Flick was handed the Bayern Munich job on a permanent basis on Friday with the future of several first-team regulars top of his agenda.

Six of his most experienced players were out of contract at the end of next season but that number can be trimmed to five after Thomas Muller extended his stay at the Allianz Arena.

The 30-year-old has penned a new deal until 2023 after a hugely impressive 2019-20 season that has seen him contribute six goals and 16 assists in 25 Bundesliga games.

It is a promising start to Flick's tenure, although there remains much to do.

Here, we look at the five players whose contracts expire in 2021.
 

 

MANUEL NEUER

A symbol of the modern era at Bayern and captain for club and country, Neuer has kept more clean sheets (10) than any other Bundesliga goalkeeper this term.

However, the 33-year-old's save ratio of 69 per cent leaves plenty to be desired, meaning Alexander Nubel's pending arrival next season should apply significant pressure.

It feels unlikely Bayern will not put a deal on the table for Neuer, but would the 2014 World Cup winner hang around as a number two?


DAVID ALABA

The lavishly gifted Austria star has flourished under Flick, stepping effortlessly into the heart of defence following injuries to Niklas Sule and Lucas Hernandez.

The 27-year-old has played every minute of Bayern's past 20 matches and has no shortage of admirers.

Amid reports of him being unsettled in Bavaria, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester City have all been linked with his services of late.


JEROME BOATENG

In many ways, the exemplar of Bayern's renaissance under Flick. The former Germany defender played 13 of 26 matches at the start of the season.

Since January he has started nine of 11 games, performing with his customary assurance and recording a 92 per cent pass completion rate.

However, Boateng will be 32 in September and this run of form might come to be viewed as a fitting swansong at the Allianz Arena, especially once Benjamin Pavard and Hernandez return to fitness.


JAVI MARTINEZ

A well-liked and versatile performer, Martinez's eight years at Bayern have been peppered with injury woes.

The 30-year-old Spain international has started five of the past 12 games and a return to boyhood club Athletic Bilbao would not be a surprise.


THIAGO ALCANTARA

Thiago wowed with a midfield masterclass in the game that arguably sealed Flick's long-term future – the 3-0 Champions League win at Chelsea last month.

The Spain playmaker has supplied eight assists this season and won 61 per cent of his duels.

At 28, Thiago is in his prime and must be a central figure in any Bayern reboot.

The signs that Jack Nicklaus was destined for golfing immortality came early in his decorated career.

Fifty-seven years ago on April 7, the 18-time major winner recorded one of his most incredible achievements on the verdant greens of Augusta.

Sharp shooting of a different kind was taking place in Texas on this day last year.

Here we look back at some of the major events to have happened in the world of sport on April 7.

 

1963 - Jack Nicklaus becomes youngest Masters winner

Having won his first major in a playoff with Arnold Palmer less than a year into his professional career, Jack Nicklaus made history with the first of six victories at Augusta.

A six-under second round of 66 was crucial for Nicklaus, who trailed Mike Souchak by a stroke at the 36-hole mark.

Souchak endured a third-round collapse, though, Nicklaus benefitting from the halfway leader tumbling down the board by shooting a seven-over 79.

Nicklaus subsequently held on to his one-shot lead, a three-foot putt on the last earning him a green jacket at the age of 23.

2018 - United comeback denies City title-clinching win

The prospect of clinching the Premier League title against their bitter rivals lay before Manchester City on this day two years ago.

Despite taking a 2-0 lead at the Etihad Stadium, Pep Guardiola's men missed the chance to do so as they were undone by a remarkable Manchester United comeback.

Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan had seemingly put City in command but Paul Pogba levelled matters with two goals in the space of three second-half minutes.

Chris Smalling was the unlikely hero for United, completing a stunning turnaround by volleying home Alexis Sanchez's free-kick.

City still cruised to the title, finishing the season with 100 points, with Jose Mourinho's United 19 points back.

2019 - Rockets break their own record

The Houston Rockets have long been known for their reliance on the three-pointer, and they displayed incredible accuracy from beyond the arc in a dominant win over the Phoenix Suns.

Houston already owned the record for the most three-pointers in a game, and the Rockets broke it by nailing 27 in a 149-113 victory.

James Harden scored 30 points in just three quarters, converting on five three-point attempts.

Eric Gordon drilled home eight, with Austin Rivers hitting the record-breaking effort with one minute and nine seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

On the six occasions Bill Belichick has lifted a Lombardi Trophy over the past two decades, Cleveland Browns fans are reminded of what might have been.

Twenty-five years ago, Belichick was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, a team considered one of the Super Bowl favourites having gone 11-5 and won a playoff game in 1994.

Then, at 4-5 in early November, Browns owner Art Modell announced he was moving the team to Baltimore the following year. The wheels came off, the Browns finished 5-11 and Belichick was fired.

The Browns' players and staff went to Baltimore, where they had success with the Ravens, while Belichick rebounded in style with the New England Patriots.

Cleveland had another franchise four years later, the Browns inheriting the team's history and getting the new stadium Modell had sought, but the 'new' Browns have been something of a laughingstock.

So what if the 'original' Browns had remained in Cleveland and Belichick had stayed in charge? The NFL world would sure look an awful lot different.

 

BELICHICK WOULD HAVE BUILT A RAY LEWIS-LED CLEVELAND DYNASTY

Belichick's coaching record speaks for itself. Had he stayed in Cleveland, he would have been a success.

The Browns had a playoff roster already and their staff from that 1995 season included a raft of future head coaches and general managers - Belichick, Ozzie Newsome, Scott Pioli, Jim Schwartz, Eric Mangini, Mike Tannenbaum and Thomas Dimitroff. There was simply too much brainpower for that organisation not to have become a serial winner.

Then there were the first two draft picks that Newsome and the Ravens inherited from the Browns and spent on offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis - two future Hall of Famers.

Forget New England, Cleveland would have been the NFL's powerhouse in the 2000s.

BALTIMORE'S RAVENS WOULD HAVE BATTLED MEDICORITY

Baltimore won a Super Bowl in just their fifth year and had sustained success thanks to Newsome's brilliance and Lewis' tone-setting displays on defense.

Even if the city, once home to the Colts, had been awarded an expansion franchise in 1999, they would have struggled as almost all expansion franchises do.

Between them the Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans - the NFL's three most recent expansion franchises, have yet to win a Super Bowl. And the Browns were effectively a franchise expansion when they returned in 1999, too.

Take out Newsome and Lewis - the foundations on which Baltimore's success has been built - and any team would have toiled.

 

TOM BRADY GETS LOST IN THE MIX

Belichick certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Tom Brady, the unheralded sixth-round draft pick in 2000 who turned into the NFL's greatest quarterback of all time with the Patriots.

Brady's determination means his talent was always likely to shine through and he would surely have got his shot.

However, without Belichick's brilliant defensive gameplan to thwart the 'Greatest Show on Turf' for Brady's first ring in his second season, where would 'Tom Terrific' be?

Belichick's defense played a huge role in at least half of Brady's Super Bowl wins. Maybe Brady had a successful career without Belichick. But the GOAT? Don't bank on it.

 

CLEVELAND, NOT BOSTON, COULD HAVE BEEN THE CITY OF CHAMPIONS

Since 1995, Boston's sports teams have combined to win 12 major titles in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. In Cleveland, where there is admittedly no NHL team, the Cavaliers' 2016 NBA Finals triumph stands alone.

In the mid-90s the Cavs were playoff regulars, while the Indians went to two World Series only to narrowly lose in 1995 and 1997, perhaps burdened by the weight of expectation in a city starved of sporting success for so long.

Had the Belichick-led Browns lifted multiple Lombardis like the Patriots, that winning feeling might have rubbed off on the city's other franchises, as it seemed to do in Boston. 

With most of the world still operating under lockdown conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic, most professional sport is on hold for the foreseeable future.

Given the outbreak occurred at a particularly inopportune moment for top-level football in Europe, the situation has bred uncertainty across most leagues – including Spain's LaLiga.

Competitions in Europe are facing the question of whether finishing the season, regardless of the impact it may have on future campaigns, should be the priority once normality returns.

The current focus does appear to be on concluding the 2019-20 campaign. However, even with Euro 2020 pushed back by 12 months, clubs and leagues are still having to work to tight schedules, with UEFA hoping seasons finish by the end of June.

While the discussion over how to complete the schedule continues, the Stats Perform AI team have crunched the numbers behind the scenes.

With all of the division's teams having completed 27 of 38 matches, 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.

BARCELONA CROWNED CHAMPIONS WITH 83 POINTS

The results in the statistical model see Barcelona crowned champions with a final total of just 83 points.

With 11 games to play, they presently lead rivals Real Madrid by two points, a gap that is predicted to have increased to four by the conclusion of the campaign, giving Quique Setien a first league crown.

Such have been the struggles of the big two this season, the final tally would be the lowest points recorded by a team to win the LaLiga since Fabio Capello's Madrid.

That team defeated Barca by virtue of their superior head-to-head record in a dramatic finish to the 2006-07 campaign, when the two sides accumulated 76 points.

It also suggests the chasing pack missed a rare opportunity to strike on a down year for both Clasico rivals, which will frustrate 2014 champions Atletico Madrid, who spent big on Joao Felix.

REAL MADRID FALL FOUR POINTS SHORT

The likelihood of Barca winning the title is 70.1%, with Real Madrid's chances rated at 29.9%. No other team is in with a chance of topping the table, according to the model.

But Zinedine Zidane's men are unlikely to face a challenge for second place, meaning they at least improve on their third-place finish from the 2018-19 season.

That third spot is poised to be grabbed by Atletico, who have a projected final points total of 65 and a 41.6% chance of claiming the position.

Atletico's closest challengers for third are predicted to be Sevilla (who are given a 26.1% chance) and Getafe (16.8%), with just two points separating those three sides in the final reckoning.

Diego Simeone would be thrilled with third place given his side went into the coronavirus-enforced break down in sixth, with Real Sociedad (9.1%) and Valencia (5%) the other teams in the mix.

UCL HEARTBREAK FOR LA REAL & GETAFE AS SEVILLA CLINCH 4TH

Sociedad and Getafe go into the break dreaming of a Champions League place amid fine seasons, but they are the two teams who will be worst affected by Atletico's predicted surge.

As part of a thrilling finish in the race for the top four, they are set to suffer heartbreak as Atletico pass them and they fall agonisingly short of catching Sevilla, who went into the halt in action sitting third.

Sevilla are anticipated to finish with 64 points, just one behind Atletico and one ahead of Getafe. 

Sociedad are then a further two behind Getafe with 61 as they are forced to settle for sixth, with Valencia staying in seventh on 59.

The four teams scheduled to finish between fourth and seventh all have a greater than 10.7% chance of finishing fourth, with none greater than Sevilla's 28.5%, so one bounce of the ball in a key game could still make an enormous difference.

Villarreal are predicted to finish in their current position of eighth, though they are given a 1.3% probability of breaking the top four.

Athletic Bilbao pass Granada for ninth position as Real Betis and Levante narrowly miss out on a spot in the top half.

Osasuna drop from 11th to 13th, where they are predicted to finish one point above Deportivo Alaves.

ESPANYOL SUFFER THE DROP AFTER 26 YEARS IN TOP FLIGHT

Mallorca, Leganes and Espanyol are the current bottom three in LaLiga and all are forecast to suffer relegation.

Espanyol have been in the top flight since 1994 but they go into the break six points adrift of safety and the model predicts they will be unable to make a great escape.

They are forecasted to collect 13 points from their last 11 games, but that is not even enough to get them off the bottom of the standings, highlighting the scale of the task they have ahead of them.

Similarly, Mallorca (36 points) and Leganes (35) are not expected to pick up enough victories to secure survival.

That means Celta Vigo, presently just one point clear of the drop zone, are predicted to survive with a final tally of 40, giving them a four-point cushion.

Celta are credited with 14 points between now and the end of the season to finish just behind Eibar (15th) and Real Valladolid (16th).

That means they would avoid a return to the Segunda Division, which is where they started the last decade.

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