Jordi Alba's emergence as Lionel Messi's preferred running mate makes him Europe's premier full-back

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Alba relished in his role as Lionel Messi's best strike partner.

Jordi Alba has always been one of the world’s best full-backs. His attacking flair and eye for a pass are exactly what’s required in the modern definition of the position, and he can hold his own defensively.

But who could have predicted this good a season? Barcelona‘s attack was depleted at the beginning of the campaign; in stepped Alba to fill the void. He seemed to have a telepathic connection with Lionel Messi, a relationship that underpinned the team’s attack.

The Spaniard duly tops our full-back rankings – here’s the full top ten from Europe’s top five leagues.

1. Jordi Alba, Barcelona

Barcelona needed to replace Neymar once the playmaker bolted for PSG. Who knew that it would be their left-back to take up the mantle? Alba to Messi was the most lethal combination in Spain, and key to La Blaugrana’s success.

Alba's partnership with Messi has been a joy to behold.

Alba’s partnership with Messi has been a joy to behold.

2. Marcelo, Real Madrid

The Champions League semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich summed Marcelo up: at fault for the Bavarians’ opener, but scored the equaliser. That’s the trade-off, and it’s one Madrid will take gladly.

Marcelo's attacking instincts more than make up for the occasional lapse.

Marcelo’s attacking instincts more than make up for the occasional lapse.

3. Joshua Kimmich, Bayern Munich

It was Kimmich who scored that goal for Bayern, and he added another in the second leg. The young German has emerged as one of the best in his position this season.

A special performance: two goals in the Champions League semi-finals against Real Madrid.

A special performance: two goals in the Champions League semi-finals against Real Madrid.

4. Kyle Walker, Manchester City

Kyle Walker was a good right-back at Tottenham. Then Pep Guardiola brought him to City, and he looked like a completely different player. He’s come on leaps and bounds this season.

Walker found a new dimension to his game at City.

Walker found a new dimension to his game at City.

5. David Alaba, Bayern Munich

It’s credit to Kimmich that Alaba may not even be considered Bayern Munich’s best full-back at the moment. That being said, the Austrian is still an outstanding left-back, capable of switching from defence to attack with aplomb.

Alaba's season was stop-start due to injury, but he excelled when he played.

Alaba’s season was stop-start due to injury, but he excelled when he played.

6. Filipe Luis, Atlético Madrid

The 32-year-old continues to show why Diego Simeone has placed so much faith in him, as his nous and work-rate helped Atlético maintain their traditional defensive fire. His recovery from a broken fibula in just two months was remarkable.

Luis brought trademark robustness to a classic Atletico back line.

Luis brought trademark robustness to a classic Atletico back line.

7. Aleksandar Kolarov, Roma

Given a new lease of life after being discarded by Manchester City, Kolarov fitted in seamlessly at Roma, providing buckets of experience to the back line. He also remains a formidable attacking force.

Given a new lease of life at Roma, Kolarov thrived.

Given a new lease of life at Roma, Kolarov thrived.

8. Marcos Alonso, Chelsea

One of the few bright sparks in a Chelsea season where Antonio Conte’s famed defence largely regressed. Alonso’s goal threat and his tenacity make him the Blues’ second-best player this season after Eden Hazard.

In a Chelsea back line that underwent upheaval, Alonso was a constant.

In a Chelsea back line that underwent upheaval, Alonso was a constant.

9. Philipp Max, Augsburg

The Augsburg left-back has 12 league assists season – as many as Lionel Messi. It’s easily the record for most assists by a defender in the Bundesliga; it’s a number many attacking players would dream to have.

More assists than Messi - how many full-backs can say that?

More assists than Messi – how many full-backs can say that?

10. Antonio Barragán, Real Betis

Real Betis are the surprise package in La Liga this season, having secured a Europa League spot, and their on-loan right back is a big reason why. No one would have expected this when Middlesbrough let Barragán go in the summer.

Barragan, the surprise package in a Betis squad that achieved the unexpected.

Barragan, the surprise package in a Betis squad that achieved the unexpected.

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Veteran Giorgio Chiellini stands tall after another brilliant season, leading our centre-back rankings

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Chiellini: the quintessential warrior defender.

Giorgio Chiellini’s season was rocked before it even began with the shock sale of long-time Juventus teammate Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan. The duo had been the standout performers in what was arguably Europe’s best defence last season, and nobody would have predicted this premature end.

It only got worse, with Italy then crashing out of the World Cup qualifiers following their playoff loss to Sweden, robbing Chiellini of the chance to make amends for the Azzurri’s group stage exit in 2014.

Six months later, and the 33-year-old is again the star defender in a Juventus side that has won a seventh straight league title, standing tallest among his colleagues at the back yet again.

Here we look at the rest of our top ten centre-backs across Europe’s top five leagues.

1. Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus

There might be defenders who have had better individual seasons than the Juventus man. But that he could produce at this level at 33, having lost veteran partner Bonucci to Milan, is incredible.

Chiellini has led the Juve defence with his typical blend of fire and composure.

Chiellini has led the Juve defence with his typical blend of fire and composure.

2. Diego Godín, Atlético Madrid

Another defender who is keeping age at bay. Fiery as ever, and in supreme command of a miserly Atlético back line – there’s a reason he’s one of Diego Simeone’s favourite players.

Godin remains as uncompromising a defender as ever.

Godin remains as uncompromising a defender as ever.

3. Samuel Umtiti, Barcelona

Barcelona cannot let the Frenchman go. Admittedly it seems like the contract standoff is much ado about nothing, but he’s shown this season just how good he is at his craft. That it’s feasible to rank him above defensive partner Gerard Pique says it all.

Umtiti was Barcelona's best defender this season.

Umtiti was Barcelona’s best defender this season.

4. Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli

Napoli’s attack garnered all the praise this season, but Koulibaly’s presence in the defence was just as vital to their ultimately doomed Serie A title charge. In a cruel twist of fate, it was his red card, a week after scoring a late winner against Juventus, that killed off Napoli’s hopes – a sad end to a great season.

Koulibaly's goal against Juventus nearly proved decisive in the title race.

Koulibaly’s goal against Juventus nearly proved decisive in the title race.

5. Gerard Pique, Barcelona

Pique had extra motivation this season. Between saying he felt inferior to Real Madrid for the first time, to the Catalan independence referendum, events unfolded to rekindle a fire in the Barcelona defender – and he responded with aplomb.

Pique has been rejuvenated as his team's form has soared.

6. Milan Škriniar, Inter Milan

The young Slovak has been one of the standout players in the Serie A this season, if not in all of Europe. At just 23, he emerged as a vital cog in Inter’s miserly defence.

Skriniar has been one of the finds of the season.

Skriniar has been one of the finds of the season.

7. Federico Fazio, Roma

Fazio has put his Tottenham debacle behind him, earning a status as one of the top defenders in Serie A. The Argentine was a big part of Roma’s top-four push, and he’ll be crucial to Argentina’s hopes at the World Cup.

Fazio looks a completely different player to the one who flopped at Tottenham.

Fazio looks a completely different player to the one who flopped at Tottenham.

8. Stefan de Vrij, Lazio

If Inter do get De Vrij on a free transfer as expected, it will go down as one of the biggest swindles in Serie A history. The Dutchman, whose Lazio contract runs out at the end of the season, has been in superlative form.

De Vrij's form caught the eye of suitors around Europe.

De Vrij’s form caught the eye of suitors around Europe.

9. Naldo, Schalke

No one thought Schalke would be the team closest to this season, after they just about avoided relegation last season. Naldo’s form has been one of the biggest reasons for the improvement.

Naldo has epitomised Schalke's rise from relegation battlers to second place.

Naldo has epitomised Schalke’s rise from relegation battlers to second place.

10. Nicolas Otamendi, Manchester City

Otamendi is still prone to errors in defence, but playing in a Pep Guardiola side has hidden those weaknesses. His distribution and goal threat – not to mention, his fitness, as other City centre-backs kept getting injured -were key to his side’s title success.

Otamendi's winner against Manchester United ended the title race in December.

Otamendi’s winner against Manchester United ended the title race in December.

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European giants hold an unwanted 45-year Champions League record

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Top prize: The Champions League trophy

Winning the Champions League is the pinnacle for every European club side.

For those who have the honour of winning the trophy, the next goal is, obviously, to win it again.

But not everyone can be like the great Real Madrid side of the 1950s, who won the first five European Cup competitions, as it was known previously.

Some sides have to wait years, even decades, to follow up on European triumph.

But which side has had the longest wait between successes?

Some of the biggest teams around have had to wait huge lengths to get their hands on the coveted trophy once more.

Amongst those are AC Milan who suffered for two decades following their win in 1969. It wasn’t until 1989 – a full 20 years later that they would win again thanks to a wonderful side includes Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten.

Liverpool had to wait a year longer – 21 to be precise. A club of huge European pedigree, they waited from 1984, to 2005 – when the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ brought them their fifth success following an incredible game that saw them come from 3-0 down to beat Milan on penalties.

Finally: Liverpool ended their wait in Istanbul

Finally: Liverpool ended their wait in Istanbul

German giants Bayern Munich are another side waiting more than 20 years – 26 in their case. They lifted the trophy in 1976, but not again until 2001.

Now we get into the team that waited more than 30 years – and it’s two of the biggest names in Europe.

Firstly, Manchester United.

They famously lifted their first European Cup at Wembley in 1968, beating Benfica with the likes of Bobby Charlton and George best pulling the strings.

Fast forward 31 years, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were victorious in 1999 – part of their famous treble-winning year. Injury time goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer snatching an improbable win from under the noses of Bayern Munich.

European winners: Manchester United defeated Bayern Munich in '99

European winners: Manchester United defeated Bayern Munich in ’99

As mentioned already, Real Madrid won the first five European Cups, from 1956 to 1960.

But from 1966 to 1998, they waited 32 years between victories. A single goal from Pedrag Mijatovic was enough for a 1-0 over Juventus, and their seventh crown.

However, none of these compare to Inter Milan.

They had won back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965, and again reached the final in 1972 – however another win in the competition eluded them until 2010 – an incredible 45 years after the last triumph.

Jose Mourinho led the side to a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich, with both goals scored by Diego Milito. Like Manchester United, this was part of a famous treble for Inter – the first Italian side to complete the feat.

Finally: Inter Milan win again at last

Finally: Inter Milan win again at last

Octo Finissimo Automatic A Third World Record for Bulgari

Bulgari is once again the spotlight, proudly presenting its third successive world record.

The Octo Finissimo Automatic is the slimmest ultra-thin self-winding watch on the market to date.

After introducing its Tourbillon in 2014 and the Minute Repeater in 2016, the Maison unveils its new creation featuring a total thickness of just 5.15mm, while its self-winding movement is just 2.23mm thick for a 40mm diameter.

The iconic Octo is once again pushing the boundaries of watchmaking feasibility.

Bulgari-Finissimo-Octo-5Bulgari-Finissimo-Octo-3 (1)

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