Top 5: Early storylines ahead of Barcelona vs. Juventus Champions League final

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23 days — the countdown is on. Barcelona and Juventus will square off in the UEFA Champions League final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany in 23 days, June 6.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s CL coverage | UEL ]

While we’re all still experiencing varying levels of disappointment that the El Clasico Champions League final we so badly wanted isn’t going to happen this year, the matchup that came to fruition offers up more than a few of intriguing storylines.

Unstoppable force (Barca’s attack) vs. Immovable object (Juve’s defense)

Chew on these numbers for a bit: 55, 41 and 25 — those are the respective goal-scoring tallies (all competitions) of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez this season. Keep in mind, Barca still have four games left in their season, so they could easily read 60, 45 and 30 by the time June 6 rolls around.

On the other side, you’ve got the nearly impenetrable defense of Juve, led by Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Patrice Evra and Stephan Lichtsteiner, which is shielded by the midfield terrors otherwise known as Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal. That unit has allowed all of 20 goals — yes, 20 — through 35 league games this season.

The styles of Barca and Juve couldn’t possibly be anymore different than they are, and that makes for a fascinating tactical battle between Luis Enrique and Massimiliano Allegri.

source: Getty ImagesSuarez vs. Evra

Once upon a time, in a past life (for Liverpool and Manchester United, respectively), these two pleasant fellows got into a war of words during a heated derby clash. Suarez hurled comments racist comments at Evra, and was subsequently suspended eight games for the incident.

The two sides met again months later. Prior to the game, Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand or even acknowledging the Frenchman, which nearly caused a fracas part deux. Given the fluidity with which Barca attack, these two will cross paths and lock horns on multiple occasions on June 6. Advantage: Suarez, as Evra, 33, has lost a step or two.

Suarez vs. Chiellini

Same antagonist, different protagonist, but more of the same for Suarez. It wasn’t the first time he bit an opponent during a game, but he still manages to one-up himself by doing it at last summer’s World Cup.

Suarez was suspended four months, which included the first two and a half months of this season and his time at Barca. Keep in mind, if not for this suspension, his goals tally would be north of 40 as well. Suarez eventually apologized to Chiellini, but the fact remains that he sunk his teeth into another human being. June 6 will be their first on-field meeting since the incident.

source: Getty Images

Xavi vs. Pirlo

Two of the very best of their generation to do what they do: dictate the tempo of a game in whatever manner they see fit. Two or three years ago, this would have been a matchup worthy of 60 newspaper inches, but in 2015, it’s merely an afterthought as one star fades and the other holds on week by week for dear life.

While Xavi has fallen by Barca’s wayside as a 35-year-old, Pirlo, his 35-year-old counterpart, continues to hold down a regular starting spot for the four-time defending Serie A champs. Soccer is a funny game that its way of aligning the stars just right. It’s hard to imagine one of these two — if not both — not having a significant impact on a European cup final at some stage.

Italy vs. Spain dynamic

No less than a dozen regulars for the Spanish and Italian national teams litter the rosters and teamsheets of Barca and Juve. Two of the top footballing nations in the world the last 20 years (though, at different times), there’s plenty of national pride on the line as well.

Eight of the last 26 European cups have been won by Spanish clubs, while seven have gone home to Italy. Either Spain extends its tally to a two-cup lead, or the Italians pull level since the end of the 1980s.

Chelsea needs to wait “48 hours” to assess Mount

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Mason Mount‘s move from the Championship to the Premier League has been nearly seamless.

His adjustment to the Champions League was cut down too quickly to get an understanding of whether it would be too big of a jump.

[ MORE: Match recap | Barkley drama ]

Mount, 20, was chopped down by Valencia’s Francis Coquelin, the former Arsenal man, and had to leave the game after just 16 minutes.

Here’s Frank Lampard, from ChelseaFC.com:

“He’s got an ankle injury but we don’t know how bad it is. We’ll have to assess it in the next 48 hours to see the scale of the injury. It was a shame because he started the game well and it meant we had to make the change early on.”

Mount scored nine times with four assists on loan under Lampard at Derby County last season, and has already chipped in three goals for Chelsea this season.

Lampard turned to Pedro off the bench on Tuesday, but any lengthy absence for Mount will spell more time for American youngster Christian Pulisic.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview: Man City, Spurs debut

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur begin their UEFA Champions League campaigns on very different results and with very different vibes.

City is coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to injury-hit Norwich City, and is set up in Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third-straight season, a side which beat Pep Guardiola once in four tries between 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the UCL.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. wrap ]

But on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men are going to carry a similar feel to one of his old Barcelona teams, as Pep seemingly will have Fernandinho pull a Javier Mascherano and drop into the back line.

Yes, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are Manchester City’s hopes at center back, now that John Stones has joined Aymeric Laporte on the shelf.

“For me as a manager it’s an incredible challenge,” said Pep Guardiola. “But I believe a lot, people don’t know the spirit and resolve to solve this problem. The players going to come back with Dinho, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis. … It’s happened, but what we are not going to do is complain. We have to have 11 players on the pitch and I like it, to find a solution. For the players as well to find an incredible step forward.”

Spurs, meanwhile, will simply be trying to build on any momentum gained by a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at the weekend, a win which came after manager Mauricio Pochettino begged his side to “re-focus” after a relatively poor start to the season.

Now a bit more relaxed, Spurs head to Greece as the clear favorites against stingy Olympiacos. These are, after all, the finalists of last season’s tournament.

Pochettino won’t be sleeping on the challenge, from The London Evening Standard:

“They have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take our best game we are going to suffer. But last season we played in the final of Champions League, so it’s normal people think before the game, Tottenham is one step above Olympiacos but in the end you need to show it on the pitch.”

Spurs are one of two early kickoffs on Tuesday.

Full UCL Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Tottenham Hotspur

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Paris Saint-Germain v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Dinamo Zagreb v. Atalanta
Bayern Munich v. Red Star Belgrade
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City

American coach Marsch speaks after landmark Champions League day

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Jesse Marsch made his UEFA Champions League debut on Tuesday, a historic first for not just the Wisconsin native but also his country.

Marsch, 45, oversaw Red Bull Salzburg’s 6-2 demolition of Genk, becoming the first American to win a UCL match as manager.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

“We knew we were going into the match full of confidence,” he said, via the Salzburg site. “We knew too that we could put in a performance of this quality. I wasn’t pleased with a few situations, such as conceding for 3-1. That shows our incredible mentality though as it prompted us to give a few more percent and immediately score two goals.”

The ex-New York Red Bulls manager and RB Leipzig assistant manager got another three goals from incredible 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haland, who nows has 17 goals in nine matches this season.

“It is an absolute joy to work with this team. We have a lot of players who just know how to battle, and that rubs off on the others. You can see that on the pitch on nights like tonight.”

There will be tougher nights ahead for Marsch, who is in a group with Liverpool and Napoli, but Tuesday was a fine start for the tactician. And it was a banner moment for American coaches abroad, who’ve been led by past and present USMNT coaches Bob Bradley and Gregg Berhalter.

Maybe one day that’ll be Marsch’s title… but it seems like he may have some loftier ground to cover on his path through world soccer.

Klopp: Liverpool made wrong decisions; Penalty also incorrect

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is going to bat for his left back after Andrew Robertson gave away what became the decisive penalty in a 2-0 loss to Napoli in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s a penalty,” Klopp said. “What can I say, for me, it is clear and obvious no penalty. He jumps before any contact, we can’t change that.”

[ RECAP: Napoli 2-0 Liverpool ]

For what it’s worth: It sure seemed like both a foul on Robertson and a comical embellishment from Callejon, but we digress.

Liverpool just didn’t have it on the day, like when Sadio Mane played a terrible pass to Mohamed Salah on what could’ve been an easy 1-0 lead.

In the moments they did have it, there was Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret making a splendid save.

“We played a lot of good football but didn’t finish it off. We controlled moments but had not enough chances in the end. We made decisions that were not right and have to accept the result. It was very often the final ball that was not right.”

Also, forgive Klopp if he has stopped enjoying the beautiful country of Italy.