Steven Gerrard praised the "quality and character" of his Rangers side after they scored a couple of late goals to edge a 4-3 thriller with Royal Antwerp in their Europa League last-32 first leg.

The Scottish Premiership leaders trailed 2-1 and 3-2 at Bosuilstadion but won the seven-goal classic through substitute Ryan Kent's strike and a second Borna Barisic penalty in the final seven minutes.

Rangers, who lost captain James Tavernier and attacker Kemar Roofe to injury in the first half, are now unbeaten in all seven matches in this season's competition proper and have tasted defeat just once in their last 40 games overall.

And while Gerrard admitted to being concerned about the poor defending on show - the Gers conceding as many goals in Thursday's match as in their last 11 matches combined - he was pleased with the way his side dug deep to pick up the win.

"I am just waiting for the heart rate to come down," he said. "It was a fantastic game. I am sure all the neutrals enjoyed it. But from a manager's point of view there is certainly a lot to analyse.

"Obviously, defensively we haven't been at it tonight, we haven't been at our very best. We have conceded three goals and that is the second time at this level that we have done that. That tells me we have a lot of work to do in terms of our organisation.

"But it is very difficult to win away from home in Europe. Experience of Scottish teams going out in Europe tells me that.

"It is very difficult to win at this level way from home. I have got to give the boys credit for winning the game. I thought we were much better in the second half."

Felipe Avenatti's header and a contentious Lior Refaelov penalty late in the first half gave Antwerp, competing in their first European knockout tie since 1994-95, the lead after Joe Aribo had opened the scoring.

Barisic was making his 100th appearance for Rangers and levelled up with the first of his two penalties, before Martin Hongla found the bottom-left corner with a deflected shot to put the visitors back in front.

But substitute Kent, who was not deemed fit enough to start the game, scored a third away goal for the Gers and Barisic converted from a last-minute penalty awarded for handball against Abdoulaye Seck, who was red carded as a result.

"I said to them at half-time not to panic," Gerrard added. "We were 2-1 down, but even if the game stayed at 2-1 it wasn't the end of the world, because we had got the away goal.

"I had seen enough in the first 45 minutes to tell me we could cause this team problems.

"Obviously, the injury didn't help us when it happened. I thought we lost a bit of our rhythm at the time. But I always knew I had quality on the bench to add to it. I thought Ryan showed his freshness coming on. 

"He scored a wonderful goal. Over the course of the 90 minutes we deserved to win the game. We could have scored a few more goals. It's a crazy football match to analyse just now because it has only just finished.

"But it shows we have got quality and character in our team."

Rangers are now the favourites to progress from next week's second leg at Ibrox as they aim to reach the last 16 of the competition in successive seasons.

However, they may be without Tavernier - arguably their key man - and Roofe after both players limped off in the first half.

Providing an update on the pair after the game, Gerrard told BT Sport: "Kemar's got another calf so that's a concern. He's getting too many of those calves at the moment so we're going to have to look into that and maybe get him to see the right people.

"He's very down and frustrated at the moment so that's a blow for us. Obviously James going off as well - he never goes off the pitch so that worries me a bit as well.

"We'll look at both situations, analyse them over the next couple of days and hopefully they're not as bad as first feared."

Jose Mourinho wants Harry Kane to "play every minute of every game" but says the Tottenham talisman was handed a rest on Thursday to manage his current fitness concerns.

Kane suffered an ankle problem in Spurs' defeat to Liverpool on January 28, and seemed set to miss several weeks, only to be brought back into the fold ahead of schedule to face West Brom on February 7.

It was a move which paid off, Kane scoring in a 2-0 win – Spurs' only league victory from their last five top-flight matches.

After coming on in the FA Cup defeat to Everton and playing against Manchester City last week, Kane did not travel to Budapest for the first leg of Spurs' Europa League round of 32 tie with Austrian side Wolfsberger on Thursday.

Tottenham did the job without their star forward, as Son Heung-min, Gareth Bale, Lucas Moura and Carlos Vinicius secured a 4-1 win and aggregate advantage heading into the reverse fixture.

"He knows I want to play him every minute of every game so it is never a question of a choice," Mourinho told a news conference when asked about Kane.

"I wanted to come here with the best team and the players to give us more opportunities to have a good result but he made the decision based on his feelings which was that to play in this game was a risk with the accumulation of minutes after the injury he had. 

"Myself and the medical department agreed with him, to give him this opportunity to take care of his condition. But I believe Sunday he will be okay and ready."

Kane is Spurs' joint top-scorer in the league this season – alongside Son – with 13 goals, while the England captain has also provided 11 assists.

He has created a total of 32 chances, second only to Son, while 29 of them have come from open play – six more than his South Korean team-mate.

Of the opportunities Kane has crafted for team-mates, 12 of them are big chances, once more a team-high, and his big chance conversion rate is 60 per cent.

Spurs did not miss him against Wolfsberger though, and one player to step up was Bale, who teed up Son's opener before adding a brilliant second.

It was the first time Bale has scored and assisted for Spurs in a match since April 2013, when he did so against Manchester City, and Mourinho – who took the 31-year-old off with just over an hour played – suggested the Real Madrid loanee could be in line for a third Premier League start of the season against West Ham on Sunday.

"One of the reasons why Gareth left the pitch by 64 minutes was to try to have him available for the next match because one of the things that is not easy in relation to his condition is the accumulation of minutes," said Mourinho.

"I believe he has a chance to play the match on Sunday."

Jose Mourinho acknowledged Tottenham's 4-1 win over Wolfsberger was not "incredible", but insisted it will bring positivity to his squad.

Son Heung-min, Gareth Bale, Lucas Moura and Carlos Vinicius scored in an ultimately routine win in Budapest on Thursday, as Spurs took a huge stride towards reaching the last 16 of the Europa League.

 Michael Liendl's 55th-minute penalty complicated matters slightly for Mourinho, but his side were comfortable as they earned just a second win in their last seven games across all competitions.

With a London derby up against West Ham next up for Spurs, Mourinho – who has been eliminated from just one of his 17 previous European knockout ties when winning the first leg, going out in the 2006-07 Champions League semi-final against Liverpool – conceded the performance was not perfect, but believes the victory provides a much-needed boost.

"We had to come and play with ambition which we did. The score should have been more than 3-0 at half-time," Mourinho told reporters.

"In the second half we made that mistake that gave them life. There were some similarities with [the FA Cup tie with] Everton.

"If you're in control and make a mistake you give the opposition life and the game can change – here it didn't change, but the 3-2 was not far from happening.

"We had good control of the game. Lots of chances. I believe the last goal put almost a period on this tie. 4-1 away is a very good result.

"I don't consider this an incredible victory, just a good victory that brings good feelings. By flying back, the plane will be a different plane than after a defeat. Tomorrow morning in training, the same."

Bale turned in an impressive display in the first half, setting up Son's opener before arrowing in Spurs' second himself.

The Wales forward's five goals this season have all been at different stadiums – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Linzer Stadion, bet365 Stadium, Adams Park and Puskas Arena – while it was the first time the 31-year-old has both scored and assisted in a game for Spurs since April 2013.

Son, meanwhile, moved onto 18 goals for the season in total with his opener, matching his tally from last season in all competitions, and the South Korea star, who has enjoyed a supreme relationship with Harry Kane this season, revelled in playing alongside an in-form Bale.

"I have a really close relationship with him," Son said.

"I'm very happy he's getting game time and scored a goal and got an assist. I really enjoy playing with him."

Rangers scored twice in the final seven minutes to salvage a 4-3 victory in Thursday's thrilling Europa League last-32 tie with Royal Antwerp. 

The Gers, who progressed through the group stage as one of six unbeaten sides, survived a scare at Bosuilstadion in the first leg to take a big advantage into next week's return fixture in Glasgow. 

Felipe Avenatti's header and a contentious Lior Refaelov penalty late in the first half followed on from Joe Aribo's opener for the visitors, before Borna Barisic levelled up from the spot just before the hour. 

Antwerp regained their lead through Martin Hongla's strike to put Rangers, who lost influential captain James Tavernier and attacker Kemar Roofe to first-half injuries, on the brink of a first defeat in 13 games. 

However, substitute Ryan Kent scored a third away goal for the Scottish Premiership leaders and Barisic kept his cool with another penalty to mark his 100th appearance for the club with a double, sealing a remarkable victory in Belgium.

Bukayo Saka's away goal gave Arsenal the upper hand as they drew 1-1 with Benfica in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie at Stadio Olimpico.

Pizzi became the leading goalscorer in the competition this season with seven when he put Benfica in front from the penalty spot early in the second half after Emile Smith Rowe handled.

Arsenal only had themselves to blame for being behind after some poor finishing, but Saka levelled just over two minutes after Pizzi struck at the neutral venue in Rome on Thursday.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was particularly wasteful, but the Gunners have the edge ahead of the second leg at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens next week.

Arsenal were unchanged for the first time since September 2018 and Aubameyang, who scored a hat-trick in the win over Leeds United on Sunday, inexplicably missed a glorious chance to put them in front 17 minutes in.

Hector Bellerin looked to have a put an opening goal on a plate for his captain when he crossed from the right, but the unmarked Aubameyang somehow failed to hit the target with his left foot.

Benfica offered little going forward but Granit Xhaka was relieved to get away with a terrible pass just before the break, Dani Ceballos coming to the rescue by blocking a Diogo Goncalves cross with two unmarked men in red shirts waiting for a tap-in.

Saka scuffed a poor shot wide after Benfica were opened up by Bellerin and Ceballos, but it was Benfica who drew first blood from the penalty spot 10 minutes into the second half.

Pizzi coolly slotted home from 12 yards out after Smith Rowe handled Goncalves' cross, but the Premier League side hit straight back with an equaliser from Saka.

Martin Odegaard picked out a surging Cedric Soares with an incisive pass and the full-back's cross was tucked home by England winger Saka from close range.

Aubameyang fired wide again when he should have hit the target and the fit-again Kieran Tierney returned off the bench before Benfica substitute Everton fired off target against the run of play.

Striker Aubameyang took too long when he had another clear opportunity to put Arsenal in front as neither side could fashion a winner.

Paul Scholes was full of praise for Bruno Fernandes after the Portuguese playmaker once again underlined his importance to Manchester United.

A potentially tricky Europa League first leg against Real Sociedad turned into a rout thanks in no small part to Fernandes, who scored twice in Turin to help United run out convincing 4-0 winners over LaLiga opponents.

The result puts Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side on course to reach the last 16 of the competition ahead of the return fixture at Old Trafford, which takes place next Thursday.

As for Fernandes, he has now scored 33 times in all competitions since making his debut for the Red Devils on February 1, 2020. Only four players within the top five European leagues can better that tally: Robert Lewandowski (53), Cristiano Ronaldo (40), Romelu Lukaku (38) and Erling Haaland (36).

Club legend Scholes is certainly a fan of Fernandes, applauding a "terrific signing" for the way he always seems to make an impact every time he plays.

"He's been sensational since the very day he signed really," Scholes said on BT Sport.

"He makes the team play football and, you have to say, every time you watch him play, every single game he plays, he affects it, which someone in that position should be doing. 

"With the quality that he's got, you feel like he's going to score goals, he's going to make goals. 

"He's been a truly, truly terrific signing."

Fernandes has nine goals in all European competitions for United; only Inter striker Lukaku (11) has netted more across both the Europa League and Champions League since last February.

The 26-year-old's brace against Real Sociedad helped lead to the biggest away victory by an English side against a Spanish opponent in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, surpassing Newcastle United's 3-0 win at Real Mallorca back in March 2004.

Marcus Rashford was also on target to take his tally in Europe to seven for the season before Dan James added a late fourth for United, who tallied 13 total shots despite having just 40.6 per cent of possession.

Manchester United rediscovered their "X-factor" in the resounding 4-0 Europa League win over Real Sociedad, according to boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 

United had won just two of their previous six games across all competitions before Thursday's last-32 first-leg clash in Turin, but they turned on the style against their LaLiga opponents. 

Bruno Fernandes scored either side of half-time to take his goal involvement tally in the competition since his debut in February 2018 to 24 (16 goals, eight assists) – more than any other player. 

Marcus Rashford and Daniel James then sealed the biggest away victory by an English side against a Spanish opponent in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, surpassing Newcastle United's 3-0 win at Mallorca in 2004. 

Solskjaer was thrilled with his side's display, which stretched their unbeaten run away from Old Trafford to nine games, and says there is plenty more to come from them. 

"We scored some good goals and played some nice football," he told BT Sport. "We deserved to win but maybe not by four goals. On a night like this when we find spaces we can be a dangerous team.

"We had to defend well. They have some terrific players up front and we earned the right to counter-attack quickly. They opened up and we got the spaces we wanted.

"Every team attacks you, it's about finding the moments to find the space. We are a work in progress, we are learning and some games we have not been able to win lately. We got our X-factor back today."

Manchester United host Newcastle United in the Premier League on Sunday before La Real visit Old Trafford for the second leg next Thursday. 

 

Milan were stunned by a looping header from Milan Pavkov in stoppage time as 10-man Red Star Belgrade snatched a 2-2 draw in their Europa League clash in Serbia. 

These teams won European Cup titles in successive years a generation ago, with Milan's 1990 success followed by Red Star landing the title 12 months later, but this season they are scrapping for success at the last-32 stage in the second tier of UEFA club competition. 

An own goal from Radovan Pankov gave Milan a slender half-time advantage, which was wiped out when Guelor Kanga netted a penalty for the hosts soon after the break. 

But Pankov's second costly defensive mistake gave Milan a spot-kick of their own, and Theo Hernandez fired home to put the visitors in charge ahead of the San Siro return game next week. Milan Rodic was sent off late on for the hosts so he can forget the trip to Italy, but Pavkov's late intervention means it could still be a fruitful visit for Red Star. 

Milan winger Samu Castillejo had a sixth-minute goal disallowed for offside, but the Rossoneri looked to have gone ahead in the 12th minute. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan failed to catch Pierre Kalulu's cross from the right, as Mario Mandzukic made a nuisance of himself, and the ball ran loose for Hernandez to tap in. 

A VAR check cancelled the strike, however, with replays showing the ball bounced against the left arm of Hernandez before he found the empty net, giving Red Star a fortunate escape. 

Mirko Ivanic was then denied twice by Gianluigi Donnarumma, either side of Ante Rebic spurning a decent chance for Milan when firing over the crossbar. 

Milan's breakthrough came in the 42nd minute, with Castillejo's low cross from the right touched past Borjan by home defender Pankov, almost in slow motion, for an own goal. Borjan got gloves to the ball but it trickled beyond him and across the line. 

Rebic was replaced by Rafael Leao for the second half, but Milan were pegged back after conceding a penalty in the 51st minute, a flick towards goal from Diego Falcinelli striking the right arm of Alessio Romagnoli. Kanga drove into the bottom left corner from the spot. 

Milan were awarded a spot-kick themselves eight minutes later when Hernandez went down under Pankov's challenge. Hernandez placed his penalty to the left corner as Borjan dived the other way. 

Rodic's late red card, for a pair of bookable offences, might have finished off some teams, but Red Star kept going and Pavkov's terrific header keeps them firmly in the tie.

Leicester City were held to a dour 0-0 draw by Slavia Prague in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 clash at Sinobo Stadium on Thursday. 

Brendan Rodgers fielded a full-strength starting XI against the Czech First League leaders, but they were unable to claim what would have been just a second win in their last eight European away matches. 

The Foxes dominated the first half, with Harvey Barnes twice going close, but Jindrich Trpisovsky's side improved after the break and made life difficult at times for their Premier League opponents. 

While the result extended Leicester's unbeaten run to five games, Rodgers will hope for an improved display from his side in the second leg at the King Power Stadium next week.

Marc Albrighton and James Maddison both flashed long-range efforts narrowly off target inside the opening five minutes before Ondrej Kolar denied a clean-through Barnes. 

The lively Barnes then fired wide at the back post as the Foxes ultimately went in at the interval without finding the goal their dominance deserved. 

Kasper Schmeichel had to be alert to tip over Nicolae Stanciu's long-range drive after the break as the hosts belatedly woke from their slumber. 

The Czech side did most of the pressing as the second half wore on, but they were unable to find the winner that would have given them the advantage ahead of the second leg. 

Bruno Fernandes scored twice as Manchester United beat Real Sociedad 4-0 in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.

Fernandes took his tally to 33 goals in all competitions for the Red Devils to put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men in charge inside the first hour.

The LaLiga side had posed a threat at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, where the match was being held due to coronavirus travel restrictions, but Marcus Rashford and Daniel James struck before Amad Diallo was granted his debut late on, meaning United go into next week's return leg in a commanding position.

Former United man Adnan Januzaj curled a shot just wide of the right-hand post and Dean Henderson had to save smartly from Alexander Isak, those chances coming either side of a wasted Rashford opportunity in a thrilling opening three minutes.

Scott McTominay, who had scored three goals in United's previous four games, was denied another by the leg of Alex Remiro after driving into the box from Fernandes' pass.

Rashford then missed another glorious opportunity, firing straight at Remiro after Alex Telles' throughball to Fernandes split the Sociedad defence.

However, he turned provider in the 26th minute. This time, Remiro made a mess of things coming off his line to clear Rashford's pass and clattered into his defenders, giving Fernandes a simple finish.

La Real applied some pressure early in the second half but United doubled their lead on the break. Fernandes let Rashford's pass run to Daniel James and then swept a first-time finish past Remiro, with VAR overturning an initial offside call.

Januzaj continued to threaten against his old club, beating Fernandes and playing in a dangerous cross that Nemanja Matic cleared, but Rashford made no mistake with the third of his chances to kill off the game, slotting past Remiro after Fred's pass cut through the defence.

James had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside and fired another effort straight at Remiro, but he made no mistake with his next chance, charging into the box and squeezing a shot through the keeper's legs.

What does it mean? United end Spanish hoodoo to take charge of tie

United had gone nine games without a win against Spanish sides in Europe stretching back to a 1-0 semi-final first-leg victory over Celta Vigo en route to winning this trophy in 2016-17.

This was a welcome result against a strong side that saw United find something of their attacking groove again and take control of the last-32 tie.

They have been inconsistent at home this season, but they will be firm favourites to progress next week at Old Trafford.

Bruno is frankly brilliant

Fernandes has been involved in 53 goals in 58 games for United in all competitions, which is 10 more than any other Premier League player has managed since his debut last February.

Imanol Alguacil's set-up afforded him lots of space to exploit but, unlike some of his team-mates, Fernandes almost always applies a clinical touch.

United can still sharpen up in attack

This proved a comfortable win but, in truth, United should have had many more. Rashford missed two sitters in the first half, James missed an easier chance than the one he converted, and Greenwood dragged a good opening wide.

Should they progress to the latter stages, they will want to avoid a repeat of last year's semi-final exit when Sevilla punished their lack of ruthlessness. This was an encouraging step towards correcting that problem.

What's next?

Before next Thursday's second leg, United are at home to Newcastle United in the Premier League on Sunday, with Sociedad hosting Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga.

Tottenham took control of their Europa League round-of-32 tie against Wolfsberger with ease as Gareth Bale impressed in a 4-1 victory in Budapest on Thursday.

On the same ground where Liverpool beat RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Tuesday, Spurs dismantled their Austrian opponents with a superb first-half display.

Bale was integral, teeing up Son Heung-min's opener before doubling Spurs' lead with a fine finish.

Lucas Moura put Spurs further ahead and even though Moussa Sissoko's lapse amid a disjointed second-half performance from Spurs allowed Michael Liendl to pull one back from the penalty spot, substitute Carlos Vinicius restored the three-goal cushion.

 

Battling both Father Time and his opponent, LeBron James remains a nearly unstoppable force in his 18th season. 

Averaging 25.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.9 assists, James is once again posting impressive numbers for the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers while playing every game so far this season.

With Los Angeles off to a 22-7 start, James appears to be the early favourite for MVP, which would put James in rarified air with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan as the only players to win the award at least five times. 

James, who won his first MVP award after the 2008-09 season, would also secure the record for the most time between MVP honours if he were to win again – a fitting tribute for a player who has broken the rules of basketball longevity.

As good as James has been this season, his lead in the race is narrow, and perhaps his three most deserving rivals come from the center position, despite the league's embrace of "small ball". 

Whether it be the "seven seconds or less" Phoenix Suns teams of the mid-2000s, the perimeter-fueled Golden State Warriors teams that won three titles or the Houston Rockets' dramatic downsizing last season that left 6ft 5in P.J. Tucker defending 7-footers, the NBA has been trending small for the better part of the last two decades.  

Shaquille O'Neal is the last true center to win MVP in 1999-00, although Tim Duncan played plenty of center during his 2001-02 and 2003-03 MVP campaigns. Some pundits have even forecasted the extinction of the true center as the league leans toward perimeter play and positional versatility.  

Yet three centers – Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz – are assembling compelling cases to be voted this season's MVP.  

Jokic is the focal point of the Nuggets' offense, on pace to dish out the most assists ever by a player 7 feet or taller at 8.6 per game. He is also averaging a team-high 27.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.57 steals.  

With Jokic on the court, the Nuggets score 117.2 points per 100 possessions – better than any team's full-season numbers – while shooting 49.9 percent from the field. When Jokic sits, Denver's offense operates with the efficiency of league-worst Cleveland, shoots just 42.5 percent, makes fewer 3-pointers and commits more turnovers.  

The Serbia native has helped the Nuggets navigate several absences due to COVID-19 protocols, but with a 15-13 start – eighth in the West – MVP voters are typically hesitant to vote for a team outside the top four in its conference. And while Jokic has improved on defense over the last few seasons, his weaknesses on that side of the floor are a fair argument against him being named more valuable than any other player.  

Embiid, on the other hand, is a two-time All-Defensive Team selection who is also turning in his best offensive season by a wide margin. His 29.7 points per game are on pace to be the most by a 7-footer since 1999-00 (Shaquille O'Neal, 29.7), while shooting career bests of 54 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from 3-point range.  

Embiid is also a tremendous free throw shooter, regardless of position, making 85.1 percent this season. He is even better in high-stakes situations, making 88.5 percent of his free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a 19-for-20 mark in the last three minutes of a game.  

With Embiid on the court, the Sixers have a net rating of +11.2 points per 100 possessions but are -5.7 per 100 possessions when he is off the court. Embiid is vital to his team, with the 76ers going 18-5 when he plays and 1-5 when he rests.  

While Embiid's time off the court shows just how valuable he is when he plays, it also may keep him from winning MVP this season. At his current workload, he is on pace to miss 15 of the Sixers' 72 games, more than 20 per cent. Embiid has played just under 748 minutes this season, while James and Jokic have played over 1,000 each.  

Gobert has played nearly 878 minutes for the Jazz, appearing in every game and leading Utah to a league-leading 24-5 record.

While his 14.2 points per game fail to measure up to his competitors' numbers, Gobert slots perfectly into the "best player on the best team" role that Giannis Antetokounmpo has occupied over the last two seasons and has added 13.4 rebounds and a career-high 2.69 blocks per game.  

Gobert is second in the league in plus-minus per 48 minutes at +15.3 (min. 500 minutes played), trailing only teammate Mike Conley at +18.9. 

The Jazz have surrounded Gobert with a roster mostly consisting of average or worse defensive players yet still rank third in the NBA, allowing 106 points per game.  

When Gobert is on the floor, Utah holds opponents to 101.6 points per 100 possession, fewer than any team's full-season numbers this year. And while Gobert ranks second in the NBA in blocked shots, his defensive impact extends beyond traditional numbers.  

Utah's opponents have attempted just 18.8 free throws per game – second fewest in the NBA – and Gobert's intimidating presence in the middle appears to be why. With Gobert on the court, Utah's opponents are attempting just 15.2 free throws per 100 possessions. When Gobert sits, that number balloons to 24.2.  

Ultimately, though, Gobert's limited offensive role makes him an outside candidate for MVP unless the Jazz finish the season on a historically great run.  

Gobert's skew toward defense, Jokic's skew toward offense and Embiid's limited availability could all open the door for LeBron – a worthy candidate in his own right – to take home his fifth MVP after this season.   

This trio of centers, however, has proven that there is still room for the big man to dominate in the modern NBA.  

Barcelona may be in a financial position to move for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland at the end of the season, according to presidential candidate Joan Laporta.

Haaland's stock continues to rise following Wednesday's double for Dortmund in their 3-2 Champions League last-16 first-leg win over Sevilla.

That made the Norway international the quickest player to reach double figures for goals in the competition for a single club, doing so in just seven matches - three games fewer than Roy Makaay for Bayern Munich between 2003 and 2004.

He has now scored a double in three successive Champions League games, having also netted twice against Club Brugge in the group stage.

Former Salzburg star Haaland has 18 goals in 13 games in the competition overall, which is a tally only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski can match since the start of 2019-20.

That type of scoring form has seen Haaland strongly linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United, Juventus and Barcelona.

Despite Barca's well-known financial struggles amid the coronavirus pandemic, Laporta - who has close links to Haaland's agent Mino Raiola - is not ruling out a possible move.

"If we have to improve the football team, I have the cards and I'm ready to play them," he said in direct response to the links with the 20-year-old attacker.

"It's because of the experience and the knowledge I have of the people who could intervene in all these situations.

"I want to send a message of calm to the Barcelona fans - we will be economically sustainable again."

Laporta is one of three remaining candidates in the running to take over as Barca's next president, along with Victor Font and Toni Freixa.

The elections were originally due to take place in January but had to be pushed back to March 7 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cristiano Ronaldo is "selfish" and is struggling to adjust to Andrea Pirlo's style of play at Juventus, according to former Italy international Antonio Cassano.

Juventus suffered a surprise 2-1 loss away at Porto in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday, with Federico Chiesa scoring in the 82nd minute after Mehdi Taremi and Moussa Marega put Sergio Conceicao's side in control.

Ronaldo supplied two key passes and only had one shot on target in the match, with the Bianconeri facing possible elimination in the first knockout round for the second straight season. It was the first time Ronaldo had registered one shot or fewer in a Champions League match since November 2019 against Atletico Madrid.

Juve spent €112million to bring five-time Champions League winner Ronaldo to Turin in 2018 with the aim of boosting their chances of lifting the trophy for the first time since 1996.

Cassano thinks Ronaldo has struggled to adapt to the philosophy of rookie head coach Pirlo and is too focused on himself to help the team.

"I have always said, even though he is a phenomenon and has scored a billion goals, that with Andrea Pirlo's idea of football he could run into difficulties," Cassano said on Christian Vieri's Twitch channel BoboTV.

"He scores a goal per game, it's true, but he struggles with Andrea's idea. He's always been a bit selfish, he doesn't give a damn about others scoring goals.

"He's the kind of player that lives to score, not for the game, for the great match. He lives to score and in this moment the situation is getting worse. The years pass for everyone and he is having difficulties.

"The paradox is that Juventus have bought a player who has won five Champions Leagues but has so many difficulties in the Champions League.

"This is because, since Sarri, Juventus are trying to show a style that is different to its history. It's clear that Pirlo must be judged in four or five years, but Juventus want everything immediately."

Ronaldo has scored 88 goals in 116 games in all competitions for Juve and has supplied 19 assists. Juan Cuadrado (21) is the only Juventus player to have laid on more goals since the Portugal captain's arrival ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Novak Djokovic believes he is peaking at the perfect time at the Australian Open after feeling the best he has all tournament in the semi-finals.

Djokovic brushed past Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev 6-3 6-4 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, reaching his ninth decider in Melbourne.

The Serbian has won the tournament every time he has been to the semi-finals, although worries over a suspected abdominal injury had cast doubt over his ability to win an 18th major title on Sunday.

But Djokovic, who has refused to detail the extent of his injury, said he was hitting top form at the right time ahead of facing either Daniil Medvedev or Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

"Well, first I want to give credit to Karatsev for a great tournament.  Maybe it wasn't his day today but he had big wins and debut, first grand slam semi-finals. Kudos for a great result," he told a news conference.

"I felt the best I felt so far in the tournament tonight. Physically, mentally, as well. I was hitting the ball very well, mixing the pace. Didn't give him the same looks at all. Always kind of kept him guessing and served well when I needed to get out of the trouble, you know, late in the second set. I'm just very pleased with the performance.

"It came at the right time. Before the last match in a grand slam, couldn't be a better timing for me to play my best tennis. But being in this situation before many times I think helps kind of gather all the necessary elements for me to peak at the right time, which is happening again, which I'm obviously very happy about.

"I'm also happy that I have two days off now. Still recovery is the priority.  I've played enough tennis. I'm feeling great on the court. Regardless of who I face on Sunday, I'm ready for the battle for the toughest match of the tournament, without a doubt."

As Djokovic prepares for his 28th grand slam final, he will face either Medvedev in his second or Tsitsipas in his first.

Djokovic said his incredible record at the Australian Open lifted his confidence, and potentially played on the minds of his opponents.

"Well, of course it contributes to more confidence, prior to coming into the finals knowing that I never lost in the finals or semi-finals just makes me feel more comfortable being on the court," he said.

"But each year is different, although it does have a mental effect on me, maybe on my opponents, I don't know, but on me it does definitely have a positive effect. It's not a decisive factor in the way the match is going to go forward, because as I said, each year is different. Surface is also different. You know, you play against also different opponents. So that's not gonna be decisive factor I think on Sunday.

"Regardless of my great record I think both Tsitsipas and Medvedev will want to get their first grand slam title. I'm sure that they are going to do their best, so I'll be ready for that."

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