Two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol has confirmed he is heading back to Barcelona, having earlier denied reports of a return to his former team.

Gasol started his career with Barca in the 1998-99 season before entering the NBA draft three years later, selected third overall by the Atlanta Hawks.

A storied stay in the United States followed, notably taking in a six-year stretch with the Los Angeles Lakers.

But Gasol has not played in the NBA since March 2019 due to a foot injury and was waived by the Trail Blazers later that year without playing a single game in Portland.

The center, now 40, has continued to discuss a potential return to action, with the suggestion of a move back to the Lakers mooted when Marc Gasol, his brother, signed for the team this season.

However, the idea of turning out for the Blaugrana once again had also appealed to Barcelona-born Gasol.

Responding to the reported move last week, Gasol wrote on Twitter: "I remain focused on my recovery and I am not ready to get back to competing just yet."

But he added he would announce any future news on his social media account, and Gasol had an update on Tuesday.

"I'm very happy to announce that I'm coming home and that I'll soon join the ranks of Barca's basketball team," Gasol said.

"I want to put my skills and experience at the disposal of the club at a key point in the season, while at the same time making progress in my physical condition and getting into the rhythm of competition.

"I'm happy to return to the club where I began, and I'm excited about this new opportunity: I hope to contribute to the first team very soon. I want to thank Barca and its technical staff for making it possible to join them."

Barcelona announced he has joined until June 30, stating on their website: "FC Barcelona is delighted that Gasol has decided to sign and return to the place that has always been his home. The club is pleased and honoured that Pau will be wearing the blaugrana colours once again."

The upcoming Olympic Games would appear to be a motivating factor in a move that seemingly ends the six-time All-Star's NBA career.

Gasol, the Rookie of the Year winner in his debut season with the Memphis Grizzlies, played 1,226 regular season games in the NBA, averaging 17.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 blocks and 0.5 steals.

His best scoring season brought 20.8 points per game in 2006-07, his final full campaign with the Grizzlies, although he was an increased threat on the boards later in his career, with 11.8 rebounds per game with the Chicago Bulls in 2014-15.

Between starring for Memphis and Chicago, Gasol joined Kobe Bryant on two title-winning teams in LA, although he first lost in the Finals shortly after joining the Lakers in 2008.

Gasol started all 46 playoff games across their successes in 2008-09 and 2009-10, having been named to the All-NBA Third Team in the regular season on each occasion.

The Lakers star then made the Second Team with 18.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game the following year.

Jose Mourinho says he is already convinced over Gareth Bale's quality and wants him to play a key part in Tottenham's run-in.

Bale impressed with a goal and assist in a 4-1 victory over Wolfsberger in the first leg of the Europa League last-32 tie last week.

Spurs then suffered a damaging 2-1 Premier League loss at London rivals West Ham on Sunday but Bale came off the bench and produced a lively performance, which included an assist for Lucas Moura

Overall, though, the 31-year-old - who is on loan from Real Madrid - has not made the impact expected of him after he signed to huge fanfare in September.

Under-pressure boss Mourinho insists Bale has nothing to prove, other than his ability to play regular games ahead of another hectic part of the season.

"He doesn't need to convince me of anything," Mourinho said ahead of Wednesday's home second leg against Wolfsberger.

"I am totally convinced about everything. It's not about convincing me, it's about being ready to play the minutes we all would love him to play. 

"It's a process. You feel that in his matches in the last couple of years. We want him of course to be ready to play every minute of every game.

"He is a player with special qualities, you could see against West Ham in the second 45 minutes the positive impact in the quality of the game. 

"He had a cross, he had a couple of assists, he hit the crossbar. He is doing that better and better, but he is not playing 90 minutes, he is not playing every game. 

"We have to manage his evolution. But he has nothing at all to convince me about."

With five losses in their last six league games, ninth-placed Spurs are entering a pivotal period where Mourinho will need Bale at his best.

The manager added: "We play 10 matches - seven plus three - in March. That's seven for us at the club plus three for the national team. 

"Our players are going to be on a 10-match run in March which is something absolutely crazy, and Gareth is a special example of a player we need to take care of. 

"I can tell you that at this moment Gareth is playing all the minutes that he can and that we feel good for his evolution. 

"And what he wants and what we want is in this last part of the season is to play more minutes and more crucial matches than he did."

History suggests a dramatic turnaround in the Wolfsberger tie is unlikely.

No team in Europa League history - ncluding when it was known as the UEFA Cup - has overturned a three-goal deficit in an away second leg during the knockout stages of the competition.

In addition, Spurs have won each of their last four home matches in all European competitions, scoring 16 goals while conceding only twice. 

"We want of course to qualify but when you're in a bad run you need victories," said Mourinho, who also confirmed Toby Alderweireld will play.

"I believe what everyone wants in that dressing room is not only to qualify but also win the match. 

"In football anything can happen but the reality is that a 4-1 victory away from home is good. It's not about losing 3-0 or 2-0 though, so we go there with a strong side.

"We go with a bench to help us turn the direction of a game if we need to and at the same time with three or four young players.

"But our first-team line-up will be very similar to the one that started in Hungary because we want to go strong."

Kylian Mbappe will use his "shark" mentality to try to push aside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the summit of world football, according to Thomas Tuchel.

World Cup winner Mbappe has established himself as one of the sport's foremost stars since breaking through at Monaco but still has some way to go to match Messi and Ronaldo.

Now at Paris Saint-Germain, the striker has so far finished no higher than fourth in Ballon d'Or voting, while the two modern greats have won the prize 11 times between them.

Mbappe is also still waiting for a first Champions League triumph, losing with PSG in last season's final having failed to score in the knockout stages of the 2019-20 tournament.

The 22-year-old has quickly made amends this term, though, hitting a hat-trick at Barcelona in last week's last-16 first leg.

Mbappe became just the 10th player ever to score a treble away against Barcelona, and only the second - after Andriy Shevchenko in 1997 - to do so in the Champions League.

The performance from Mbappe in a 4-1 win was considered another breakout moment on the world stage, although Messi and Ronaldo are not going away.

While Mbappe has been involved in 30 goals in all competitions this season, ahead of the veteran stars (Ronaldo 29 involvements, Messi 27), his rate of a goal every 108 minutes lags behind Ronaldo, who nets every 95 minutes.

If Mbappe is to establish himself as the world's best, former PSG coach Tuchel says he must kick on again.

"They will never step aside, never of free will. They will never step aside," Chelsea boss Tuchel told BT Sport. "If he wants to be there, he has to push them aside.

"This is clear: on that level, nobody will step aside for him.

"Scoring a hat-trick at Nou Camp is a message and is what he demands of himself. It is his potential, it is what he has in him. He is still young, he is still hungry, he is a shark in his mentality.

"He wants to grab everything that he can have. This is the mentality that you need, and I mean it in the most positive way because he's a nice guy in private and in person.

"He's a nice guy, super intelligent, super funny, but once he's on the pitch, he's a shark. This is what the big guys are. If there is one drop of blood in the water, they arrive.

"This is Kylian, and if he wants to enter on the level from the guys that you mentioned [Messi and Ronaldo] - because they are there for years and years and years - I don't think they are ready to step aside just because he arrives.

"He has to take it. I think he will do everything to do it."

Jose Mourinho is convinced he can turn around a wretched run of Tottenham form and save his job as Spurs manager.

A damaging 2-1 loss at London rivals West Ham on Sunday represented a fifth defeat in six Premier League games.

Mourinho has never endured such a poor six-game sequence during his decorated career and Spurs are now ninth in the table having looked like title contenders earlier in the campaign.

The home Europa League last-32 second leg against Wolfsberger on Wednesday – a tie Spurs lead 4-1 – is likely to offer some brief respite to Mourinho.

But with suggestions the club are eyeing up RB Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann as a replacement if Spurs do not improve rapidly, Mourinho knows the pressure is on.

"I am not happy, but maturity helps, and I am feeling very confident," Mourinho told reporters on Tuesday.

"I believe that we will win through and that I will be in Tottenham's history through good reasons rather than bad.

"Thank God I'm not the manager I was. We all evolve. Sometimes [in the past] I had problems, not in terms of results as I didn't have many bad results, but day-to-day problems.

"I reacted in a much more emotional way. Instead of helping myself, I was creating more conflicts. As an example, I left Chelsea as a champion.

"Maybe your experience as a journalist tells you that people with more experience can deal with negative things better. We are calm."

The West Ham match was Mourinho's 50th Premier League outing in charge of Tottenham, with those games yielding 23 wins, 12 draws and 15 defeats.

Those 81 points overall are 14 fewer than Mourinho has amassed during his first 50 league games with any other club over the course of his career.

Mourinho added: "You say I'm not used to this, which is a positive in the negative, but I want to know which coach has always had blue sky and never cloudy or a bit dark. 

"Perhaps only a coach who is always at a dominant club in a league. It shows how beautiful my career has been. 

"Does it make me depressed? No. It's a challenge. I work for the club, the players and the supporters. I always feel I have to give them so much.

"It hurts me and it's a great challenge for me and I believe I can give it. I give it everywhere I've been and I'm more motivated than ever."

Mourinho was also asked about his relationship with chairman Daniel Levy amid the dreadful run.

He added: "My relationship is the same since day one, which is one of respect and open communication. We respect each other. 

"What I feel to Mr Levy is what I feel in every club I've worked in. I want to give happiness to everyone, the chairman, the players, the fans, everybody connected to the club.

"I feel one of them and I want to give happiness to them. I don't change.

"I never felt lonely in this building. I feel not only respected but supported. Everybody in the same boat. 

"I feel positive. Maybe that is a bit weird for you after losing so many matches but I'm positive. Nobody is happy, nobody is depressed, and everybody feels we are going to do better.

"I'm not happy but I wake up wanting to come here. Everybody is loving training and working hard with so many matches."

After the continental clash, games against Burnley, Crystal Palace and Fulham represent crucial opportunities for Spurs and Mourinho to reverse course.

Ronald Koeman has not given up on Barcelona winning LaLiga as they face a pivotal run of fixtures that could define their season, starting with Elche at home on Wednesday. 

Barca sit fourth in the table after only managing a draw at home to Cadiz at the weekend, a surprise result that ended a streak of seven successive league wins. 

However, with leaders Atletico Madrid losing at home to Levante, meaning they have managed just one victory in their previous four outings, Koeman retains hope his team can make up ground and get involved in a title race. 

Atleti have a three-point cushion over second-placed Real Madrid, who have played a game more than their neighbours, while Barcelona are eight points adrift.  

In between the two Clasico rivals are Sevilla, to whom Koeman's side travel to play this weekend in league action. They then host the same opponents next Tuesday in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final, Barca needing to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the previous meeting if they are to progress. 

"I still believe that we can fight for the championship," Koeman told the media ahead of the visit of Elche to Camp Nou. "Results are showing that each team can come down.  

"It will depend on the two games that come, which are very important to fight for the title.  

"Then, in the cup, we have to come back. In the two competitions, we can do things. This week, we have three games that are important.

"It is difficult because we have to overcome a home game against Sevilla without an audience, with an audience it would be easier." 

Barca had 20 attempts and 81 per cent of possession against Cadiz but were punished for their wastefulness when Clement Lenglet was ruled to have fouled Ruben Sobrino in the penalty area, allowing Alex Fernandez to convert for an 89th-minute equaliser for the visitors with their only shot on target.

While they have scored 50 goals in LaLiga this campaign – the most by any team in the competition – Koeman wants to see his players become more ruthless in attack. 

"The problem is not that we do not create. It would be worse if we did not create opportunities," the Dutchman said when reflecting on Sunday's performance.

"We must ask for more effectiveness from the players at the top. We create opportunities and we did not score to make it 2-0.  

"These are important moments and, this season, we lack effectiveness. The percentage of goals is low for a team like Barcelona."

Koeman confirmed that Ronald Araujo is not yet ready to return from injury, though the defender is "improving" and could feature in either of the upcoming games against Sevilla.

"Why not go to a statue contract? People are saying, 'Oh, too many years.' But I just love what I'm seeing, what we're going to do. I want that statue on one team. I want to stay on one team and build my legacy over here in San Diego."

Fernando Tatis Jr. will have the chance to do exactly that – build a legacy – after signing an eye-popping 14-year, $340million contract with the San Diego Padres.

The Padres – winners of two National League pennants – are pinning their hopes on MLB's new poster boy delivering a first World Series to San Diego.

Not only is Tatis' deal the longest contract in MLB history, but also the largest contract awarded to a player not yet eligible for arbitration after he won a Silver Slugger award, having hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season.

Tatis joins an exclusive club. The powerful 22-year-old shortstop's contract is the third largest in league history, only behind Mike Trout's 12-year, $426.5m extension with the Los Angeles Angels and Mookie Betts' $365m deal over 12 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I'm just the same kid on the field. Nothing's going to change," Tatis said. "I'm playing the game I love. And I feel when you do the things with passion and with love, I feel like it's going to reward you. And I feel like when people ask me how I'm going to play this game, I'm just going to be the same kid every single time."

As Tatis and the Padres embark on an historic partnership, we take a look at the numbers behind the generational superstar using Stats Perform data.

 

Padres have struck (stolen) gold – just ask the White Sox

If you want to talk about steals, look no further than the James Shields trade in June 2016.

The Padres gave up Shields – who had signed the richest free-agent contract in franchise history the two offseasons prior – acquiring a pair of Minor Leaguers from the Chicago White Sox in return.

A certain 17-year-old Tatis was among them. The Dominican – son of former third baseman Fernando Tatis, who spent some 13 years in the majors – was unranked as a prospect in nearly every publication.

"He's got the big-league pedigree," Padres general manager A.J. Preller said at the time, with San Diego also sending a significant amount of cash to the White Sox to pay for part of Shields' contract. "He's a very intelligent kid, he's got good feel for the game. He's a shortstop, and he's a bigger-bodied player that's a pretty good athlete."

A pretty good athlete? Safe to say Preller and the Padres got it right.

In his debut season with the Padres in 2019, Tatis tallied 61 runs, 22 homers and 53 RBIs after hitting .317 in 84 games.

Tatis became the youngest Padres player to debut on Opening Day (20 years and 85 days), while he managed the most homers (22) by any MLB shortstop before turning 21.

He really took baseball by storm in 2020. Tatis became the fastest player in Padres history (24 team games) to reach the double-digit home run mark after hitting his 10th and 11th homers of the season in August.

In the postseason, Tatis homered twice against the St Louis Cardinals in October, becoming the youngest Padre to ever homer in a playoff game (21 years and 273 days) and the third-youngest player in MLB history to homer twice in a postseason match, behind Carlos Correa (21 and 20 days old) and Andruw Jones (19 years, 180 days old)

Tatis also finished fourth in the National League (NL) MVP race last season as the Padres returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

"I love this city," Tatis said. "I love the fans. I love the culture. I love the vibe. And I'm all about winning, and I'm all about winning in San Diego."

He is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career.

Tatis packs a punch with the bat – he led the majors in average exit velocity (95.9 mph), hard hit percentage (62.2), and balls hit 95-plus MPH (102).

He also enjoyed a remarkable rise defensively following an erratic rookie season at shortstop.

Tatis went from minus-13 outs above average (OAA) to plus-seven – his plus-20 improvement the largest of any player across that period.

When it comes to on-base plus slugging, Tatis stacks up well. Since 1920, Tatis (150.8) is only behind Juan Soto (153.9 – 2018-20), Albert Pujols (159.3 – 2001), Jimmie Foxx (160.0 – 1925-29), Ted Williams (161.5 – 1939-40) and Trout (165.0 – 2011-13) for highest OPS-plus up until the age of 21.

Using the same timeframe, but for wins above replacement (WAR) among shortstops, Tatis (5.6) ranks ninth. Alex Rodriguez is top (13.6 – 1994-97).

 

Future Hall of Famer?

Tatis has only played 143 games – less than the equivalent of one season in MLB – but he is putting up serious numbers.

Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr. are two standout names to have made the shortstop position their own. Both are Hall of Famers.

Tatis has said he aspires to become "the Dominican Derek Jeter".

Jeter spent his entire 19-year career with the New York Yankees, winning five World Series titles, as many Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards, plus 14 All-Star honours.

"I was already thinking about that since I got to the big leagues," Tatis said of one-team player Jeter. "In my dreams, the players I admire the most, they stay on one team, they build a culture, and they become winners with that team. I'm over here trying to do the same."

Tatis is on track to emulate, and potentially even exceed Jeter.

Comparing the pair through 143 games, Tatis tops Jeter when it comes to homers (39 to eight), runs (111 to 80), RBIs (98 to 63), hits (168 to 154), triples (eight to five), stolen bases (27 to 10), walks (57 to 46), slugging percentage (.582 to .414) and on-base percentage (.956 to .774).

It is a similar story with World Series winner, 19-time All-Star and two-time American League (AL) MVP Ripken.

Through the same amount of games, Tatis sits ahead of Ripken in all the above categories: homers (19) runs (62), RBIs (65), hits (124), triples (four) stolen bases (two), walks (32), slugging percentage (.439) and on-base percentage (.738).

At the end of this mammoth deal, Tatis will be 36. By that time, he would have spent 16 years in San Diego – a tenure matching Trevor Hoffman for second place in franchise history, only adrift of Tony Gwynn's 20 years.

Like Jeter and Ripkin, Gwynn did not enjoy a Tatis-like start to his career after 143 appearances: he stood at two homers, 70 runs, 56 RBIs, 152 hits, four triples, 15 stolen bases, 39 walks, a slugging percentage of .378 and .727 in terms of on-base percentage.

Everything points to a place among the greats at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for Tatis.

"He's got a chance to set his mark by winning World Series," said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. "It starts with one, and then you build on that."

A gripping series is perfectly poised ahead of a mouthwatering day-night Test between India and England at the spectacular Motera Stadium. 

Although the capacity will be halved due to coronavirus restrictions amid the pandemic, there will still be up to 55,000 allowed into the biggest cricket venue in the world for the third Test in Ahmedabad.  

Ravichandran Ashwin was the star of the show on his home ground in Chennai as India levelled the series at 1-1, the all-rounder taking match figures of 8-96 and scoring a sublime second-innings century on a pitch that turned sharply from day one. 

The seamers will be hoping playing under floodlights with a pink ball will give them more of a chance to make an impact when the third Test starts on Wednesday, though spin will still be expected to play a major part in proceedings. 

India paceman Ishant Sharma is poised to make his 100th appearance in the longest format, while Ashwin is closing in on 400 Test scalps. 

James Anderson and Jofra Archer are set to return to the England side, with Chris Woakes pushing for a place along with Jonny Bairstow and Mark Wood - the latter two are back in the squad after being given a break following the tour of Sri Lanka. 

England all-rounder Moeen Ali will not feature after heading home and India have brought fast bowler Umesh Yadav into the squad, releasing Shardul Thakur. 

Captain Joe Root gave nothing away when asked about selection on the eve of the match. 

He said: "We are going to take our time with the limited information we have on this ground, on pink-ball cricket. We are going to make sure we give ourselves as much information as possible before we make that decision."

 

Century up for Ishant, Ashwin closing in on 400

Ishant is set to become only the 11th player for India to reach 100 Tests, having already marked this series with a milestone after taking his 300th wicket in the longest format. 

The pace bowler has taken 76 Test scalps at an average of just 19.3 since 2018 and could thrive in the conditions. 

Ashwin, the hero of the second Test, is just six wickets short of the 400 landmark - a feat only Anil Kumble, Kapil Dev and Harbhajan Singh have achieved for India. 

The off-spinner has taken 17 wickets in the series at 17.82 apiece with a strike rate of 40.4. Jack Leach is the second-highest wicket-taker with 12.

 

Anderson ready to shine under the lights

After playing a big hand in England's victory in the first Test in Chennai, Anderson was understandably frustrated to be omitted for the second match at the same venue.

The seamer said he understands the tourists' rotation policy in such a demanding year, though, and is raring to go with the pink ball.

England's leading Test wicket-taker has claimed 14 scalps at an average of 17.85 in three day-night Tests and should pose a massive threat to the India batsmen.

He said: "All the seam bowlers want really is a bit of carry, which we haven't really had throughout the series. We're keeping our fingers crossed there's a bit more in it for the seamers."

Key match facts

- India were bowled out for only 36 in their last day-night Test against Australia in Adelaide in December. England also endured a pink-ball nightmare when they were skittled out for just 58 by New Zealand in March 2018. 

- India have managed one win and a defeat in their two day-night Tests. England have been beaten in two of the three day-night contests they have played in the longest format.  

- This will be the third Test encounter between India and England at Motera Stadium. India have won once there, with Cheteshwar Pujara making a Test-best 206 not out in November 2012. The other meeting ended in a draw. 

- Only Niroshan Dickwella (seven in 19 games) has claimed more Test stumpings than Ben Foakes since November 2018 (five). The England wicketkeeper has only played six Tests in that time. 

- Rory Burns has been dismissed by Ashwin in three of his four innings in the series, scoring just 33 runs. 

Teen stars Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff earned Adelaide International victories on Tuesday, but third seed Johanna Konta is out.

French Open champion Swiatek secured a 6-3 6-4 triumph over Madison Brengle to set up a last-16 tie against home favourite Maddison Inglis, who beat veteran Sam Stosur in a three-set epic.

"Inside I'm the same person, but I realise that everybody's kind of treating me differently," Swiatek said after the win, as she reflected on the attention she now receives as a grand slam champion.

"So it's something you have to adjust to, and also keep yourself down to earth and the same as you were.

"We did a great job last year and hopefully this season will also be successful. 

"Tennis-wise it also changes - I’m not an underdog anymore, so I start my matches with a different attitude, and that’s the kind of thing you have to learn to do.

"Madison is the kind of player who uses her opponent's power, so I had to stay cool. 

"I tried to calm myself down, stay low in the legs, and sometimes play longer rallies to get in the rhythm, because the first round is always tough at any tournament."

Gauff also progressed, saving eight of the 11 break points she faced to defeat Jasmine Paolini 6-4 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 in a match lasting over two-and-a-half hours.

A tough test against Petra Matric is up next for Gauff in the last 16 after the Croatian sixth seed recovered from a set down to win against qualifier Ludmilla Samsonova.

Gauff's fellow American Shelby Rogers is the first player to reach the quarter-finals.

Konta had a bye in the opening round and had no answers for Rogers as she played her first match of the WTA 500 tournament.

Rogers won 6-2 6-2 in just 76 minutes, never dropping serve in the contest.

Marco Rose insists Borussia Monchengladbach "can't really lose" when they go up against Manchester City in the Champions League, as he challenged his players to be courageous in the last-16 tie. 

Gladbach sprung a surprise by making it out of their group behind Real Madrid, having qualified for the knockout stages by finishing above Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter. 

Now the Bundesliga side face the runaway Premier League leaders without the benefit of playing at home. Due to travel restrictions in Germany amid the coronavirus pandemic, the first leg takes place on Wednesday in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. 

Rose – who is leaving at the end of the season to take charge at domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund – acknowledges the underdogs will have to defend well to keep Pep Guardiola's in-form side at bay, though he also stressed the importance of being brave in possession if they are to have any chance of springing a huge surprise. 

"When you're Borussia Monchengladbach and you're playing a Champions League last-16 match against Manchester City, you can't really lose," Rose told the media.

"It's basically just a big thing for the club to be playing in the Champions League and we have always said that we want to prove ourselves and show what we can do.  

"We've done that really well so far. The lads should enjoy the game, that's part of the occasion. But they also have to be ready to show what they can do.  

"Above all, it's about defending well and playing with courage. If there's one thing that City really don't like, then it's not having the ball."

Gladbach – who have reached the knockout rounds of Europe's premier club competition for the first time in 43 years – will be without Torben Musel and Famana Quizera for the first leg.

They will come up against opponents who have not lost since November 21, with a 1-0 triumph away at Arsenal on Sunday stretching City's unbeaten run in all competitions to 25 games.

"I don't think that I need to motivate the lads in any way. They've earned this evening," Rose said ahead of the game at the Puskas Arena.

"I hope that the players reflect again on what they have already achieved in the group stage and that they approach this game with passion and courage, but also a willingness to suffer.

"We will try to always make inroads going forward. If my team plays to the best of their ability, then a good result is absolutely possible."

City are unbeaten against Gladbach in the Champions League, having won three times and drawn once in previous meetings.

Melbourne City held off a late comeback attempt from Sydney FC to win 3-2 and end a three-match A-League losing streak.

Hosts City came into the contest – a rematch of last year's Grand Final, which Sydney won in extra time – out of form with five defeats in their last six.

But any lack of confidence was not reflected as they stormed into a three-goal lead after 53 minutes courtesy of two goals from Australia striker Jamie Maclaren and another from Adrian Luna.

Milos Ninkovic got one back and another Sydney substitute, Patrick Wood, scored in the 90th minute to prompt a few nerves in stoppage time but Melbourne held on.

Maclaren was constantly involved, racking up nine shots for the victors, while Andrew Nabbout had a game-high five key passes including a fine assist for the third goal.

A first loss in four means Sydney stay fifth, with City now just two points behind them in ninth.

Russell Westbrook believes the Washington Wizards sticking together prevented the team from coming apart after an awful start to the NBA season. 

The Wizards continued their revival as they earned a 127-124 overtime win against defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday. 

They trailed by 17 points in the second half but rallied impressively, with Westbrook racking up 32 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. 

The Wizards have now won five straight games, having previously not even put together a run of four consecutive victories since February 2018. 

Wins against the Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Lakers have turned the season around. 

The Wizards started 6-17 in Westbrook's first year since his trade from the Rockets, but they are now surging ahead of another huge test at the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday. 

"It has been tough, but we have been sticking together," Westbrook said, per ESPN, amid the team's best run in three years. 

"That's the main thing. If you get caught up with everything else going on, teams and players tend to come apart. 

"But we have been sticking together and communicating on how to become a better team, and it's been paying off for us."

Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal also shone with 33 points, including six on three straight possessions during a pivotal spell in overtime. 

"It feels different, in a great way," he said. "It feels great, but at the same time, we still haven't done a damn thing. 

"We realise that, and we keep telling each other that. 

"We've still got bad habits we need to break, but we don't discount what we did." 

LeBron James had 31 points for the Lakers, who have now lost four of their last five, with Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder out injured. 

"It takes a whole team to collectively get wins, and right now we have two of our main rotation guys out," Kyle Kuzma said after registering 14 points in the loss. 

"Obviously there are no excuses. You don't want to lose to an under-.500 team like that, but this is the NBA and anybody can win. We just have to figure it out." 

LeBron James insisted he does not believe in rest after the Los Angeles Lakers suffered a frustrating loss to the Washington Wizards.

Defending NBA champions the Lakers have lost three games in a row and four of their last five after going down 127-124 in overtime on Monday.

James missed a free-throw with 10 seconds left in regulation time and did not connect with his last four three-point attempts in the fourth quarter and OT as the Lakers surrendered a 17-point lead.

The 36-year-old played for over 43 minutes. He has not missed a game this season and has clocked up over 200 minutes more than anyone on the Lakers roster, with star team-mate Anthony Davis out injured.

James still had 31 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds in a productive outing, but acknowledged he had not been at his best.

The Lakers (22-10) have gone to OT four times in the last 17 days, losing this one as Bradley Beal (33) and Russell Westbrook (32) combined for 65 points.

"This whole narrative of 'LeBron needs more rest' or I should take more rest or I should take time here, it's become a lot bigger than what it actually is," James told reporters after the game, per ESPN. 

"I've never talked about it, I don't talk about it, I don't believe in it. 

"We all need more rest, s***. This is a fast turnaround from last season, and we all wish we could have more rest. But I'm here to work, I'm here to punch my clock in and be available to my team-mates.

"And if I'm hurt or if I'm not feeling well then we can look at it then, but I have nothing but honest people around me [advising me].

"I'm also honest with myself as well, and me having a love for the game and me being able to be available to my team-mates is more important than anything.

"Obviously I take full responsibility [for] missing that free throw. I got to make the free throw up there, it's an easy point for us. 

"We didn't lose the game there, but I take that responsibility for sure, and I got to be better."

James added about his workload: "I'm not pushing myself. I'm doing my job and I'm trying to do it at a high level, but that's been a narrative around the league.

"I have never asked for time off or time throughout the season. And it's growing to a point where it's not even coming from me anymore. I've been hearing it for five, six, seven years now and I'm still going strong. 

"So, I don't need a handout, I'm not looking for a handout, my job is to go out when I'm available, when I'm healthy to go out and play and that's what it's all about."

"It's something I've done before," James added about the packed schedule and an upcoming All-Star game. "I can continue to do it, but I would much rather us be whole."

Lakers coach Frank Vogel called James "a workhorse" and said he would make decisions about the veteran on a game-by-game basis.

A game at Western Conference leaders the Utah Jazz is next on Wednesday.

Holders Bayern Munich look to move another step closer to retaining their Champions League title when they face Lazio, while Atletico Madrid and Chelsea do battle in Bucharest on Tuesday.

Bayern cruised into the round of 16 as Group A winners, claiming five victories and a draw in six games, and will be expected to knock Serie A side Lazio out, although they will arrive in Rome on the back of a 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Lazio and the Bundesliga leaders will lock horns at Stadio Olimpico in the first leg, but there will be no home advantage for Atleti when they take on Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea.

Coronavirus-related travel restrictions meant the game was moved to the National Arena in the capital of Romania, which Tuchel believes will give his side an advantage.

We used Opta numbers to preview the two clashes.

 

Atletico Madrid v Chelsea: Suarez not yet off the mark

If history is anything to go by, it could be difficult to pick a winner in this tie as the two sides have won two apiece and drawn three of their previous European games - scoring 11 goals each.

Atleti have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. Chelsea will attempt to progress past the round of 16 for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, when they lost to Diego Simeone's men in the semi-finals.

Luis Suarez has never failed to score or deliver an assist in a Champions League season – this is his eighth campaign in the tournament. The striker has not scored or laid a goal on in his four Champions League games for Atleti.

Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud found the net every 28 minutes on average in the group stage this term (five goals in 142 minutes), the best ratio of any player to score more than once.

Among the goalkeepers to play at least three Champions League games this season, Chelsea's Edouard Mendy has the best save percentage in the competition (94 per cent), only conceding from one of the 16 shots on target he has faced.

Lazio v Bayern Munich: Holders out to complete another Italian job

Lazio have only lost one of their six Champions League matches against German opposition (W2 D3) and remain unbeaten at home.

However, Bayern are unbeaten in their previous five Champions League away games against Italian sides (W3 D2). Their two visits to Stadio Olimpico in the competition have produced 13 goals, including a 7-1 victory against Roma in October 2014.

The Bavarian giants have reached the knockout stages for the 13th consecutive season, only Real Madrid (24) and Barcelona (17) are on longer runs.

Bayern have also won 16 of their past 17 Champions League games (D1), with an overall goal difference of +48 (61 goals for, 13 against) – that is four more wins than any other side over that period (Paris Saint-Germain have won 12).

While Ciro Immobile – eight goals in nine Champions League starts – will be Lazio's dangerman, Bayern's talisman needs no introduction.

Robert Lewandowski has 31 goals in 33 Champions League appearances since the start of 2017-18, more than any other player – Cristiano Ronaldo is second with 29 in 34 outings.

Things aren't always as they seem.

A tired old cliche it may be, but for Marcos Llorente such a notion is one that ultimately he believes "literally changed my life".

The date was March 11, 2020, back at a time when the world was changing, or about to change, for everyone due to the coronavirus pandemic. For Llorente things changed because of a Diego Simeone masterstroke.

Atletico Madrid were losing 1-0 to Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League last-16 second leg, which left the teams locked at 1-1 on aggregate.

With 56 minutes gone, Llorente entered the fray for Diego Costa. To most observers this was Simeone trying to close the door, put on a defensive-minded midfielder, head to extra time, maybe sneak a goal on the counter or win on penalties.

But it was almost a butterfly-effect moment. Yes, the match did enter additional time, but Llorente – employed in a more attack-minded role – scored twice after Roberto Firmino put Liverpool in front. Alvaro Morata's late third secured Atleti's progression.

"The match at Anfield was a great turning point for my career, indeed it literally changed my life," Llorente said back in November.

"I always say, however, that in football you have to confirm yourself every day. I know that I had a good performance against Liverpool, but the important thing is to maintain this continuity of performance over time. I am succeeding and I am very happy with what I am doing."

Since that night, the forgotten man of Real Madrid has become one of the most important cogss in Simeone's tactical machine, and on Tuesday he returns to the last-16 stage to face more English opposition in Chelsea as a completely different player to the one he was a year ago.

A PLAYER TRANSFORMED

This season alone has highlighted Llorente's transformation. Among midfielders in LaLiga, only Jose Luis Morales (11) has managed more goals than Llorente (9).

In terms of assists, Llorente (8) ranks only behind Jorge de Frutos for midfielders, while he is just outside the top 10 for chances created from open play (28). Additionally, he is sixth for shots total (36) and third for shots on target (16).

For a direct comparison, in Llorente's final season at Real Madrid in 2018-19, over the course of the entire season he had two goals, zero assists, six chances created from open play, seven shots and four on target.

Llorente's passing success rate in the final third during that campaign at the Santiago Bernabeu is down from 86.17 per cent to 75.37. But he has already had 457 successful passes in the opposition third this term compared to the 281 in the whole of his last at Madrid – showing he is contributing much more frequently further up the pitch.

Also, over the past two seasons, Llorente has 14 goals despite his expected goals (xG) rating being four. Robert Lewandowski, the top scorer in European football over the past two campaigns, had an xG of 63 and scored 71 (excluding penalties) meaning Llorente's differential was actually higher. 

THE INFLUENCER

A dive deeper into the numbers, shows just how influential Llorente has become as an attacking force to Atleti.

His 75 involvements in a sequence ending in a shot is 12th in LaLiga among midfielders but the highest of any Atleti player, with Joao Felix the nearest to him on 64. When looking at involvements in a sequence ending in a goal, Llorente's 20 is the best in the division - three more than Lionel Messi and seven more than the next Atleti player Angel Correa.

Of the sequences ending in a shot, Llorente has started 13 of those attacks - again the highest at Atleti, and the sixth highest among LaLiga midfielders. He has started five sequences that have resulted in a goal for his team, a joint-high with Real Madrid's Casemiro.

He has also had 30 involvements in build-ups ending with a shot, and six ending in a goal – the first a team high and the second beaten only by Thomas Lemar.

Atleti head into the first leg against the Blues top of LaLiga, even though a solitary point from two matches against Levante over the past week has seen their lead over rivals Madrid trimmed to five points.

In Chelsea, Simeone's men face a side aiming to show their rejuvenation under Thomas Tuchel is more than the supposed new-manager bounce.

And for Llorente, it is an opportunity to showcase his evolution since that fateful night at Anfield.

Western Conference leaders, the Utah Jazz, bounced back from their first loss in 10 games by draining a franchise-record 28 threes while crushing the Charlotte Hornets 132-110.

Donovan Mitchell top scored with 23 points, while three players – Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson and Georges Niang – came off the bench to post 20 points or more to send the Jazz to 25-6.

Ingles and Niang each shot seven from downtown, while Clarkson added five. 

Utah became the fastest team in NBA history to record 500 three-pointers in a season, setting the record at 31 games.

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