Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Three key battles in the Champions League Final

Leave a comment

There are only two differences in the Liverpool lineups that beat Spurs 2-1 home and away this season.

Naby Keita and Joe Gomez started the September tilt at Wembley Stadium, while Jordan Henderson and Joel Matip started at Anfield.

[ MORE: Champions League story lines ]

Spurs on the other hand played a back four at Wembley with three center backs in the reverse fixture, wing backs Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier pushed up high and wide.

Might we see the latter again in Madrid? One of those pieces begins this examination of the three (plus one) factors in Saturday’s Champions League Final.

Kieran Trippier versus Sadio Mane

Mane scored 22 goals this season, but failed to manage one against Spurs whether Trippier was lined up at right back or as more of a right wing back.

All-in-all, the dangerous-crossing Trippier is a better defender than his reputation suggests, but Mane is about as explosive an attacking talent as there is in England.

This battle may be the one that settles the tie.

Roberto Firmino versus Toby Alderweireld

Sure, this also could read Firmino v. Spurs’ defense, but “Bobby’s” two goals against Spurs this season were his first in six matches against the Reds.

Like Harry Kane for Spurs, Firmino is coming off an injury. While still quite good, the Brazilian center forward’s production and effectiveness have both dipped this season.

Perhaps it’s absurd to expect him to be a wrecking ball in consecutive Champions League seasons, but his dip in that competition was especially significant. Firmino arguably was the number one reason Liverpool ran through its forgiving slate last season, scoring 10 goals with 7 assists and drawing a penalty. This year, it’s just four goals with a helper.

Alderweireld, meanwhile, has been fine but not spectacular for Spurs. The big Belgian will hope Firmino is less than 100 percent.

Jurgen Klopp versus himself

There are few men in the world with the self-confidence of Jurgen Klopp, but the Reds’ boss enters his latest final holding the proverbial clipboard for the unabashed favorites.

When a man has lost his last three European finals, there’s reason to question how he may try to out-fox himself in the role of favorite. It’s also worth noting that the virtue of getting to a fourth European final says a lot about a managerial skill set.

Where Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is very much playing with house money, Klopp has yet to lift a piece of silverware as Liverpool boss. Perception of him is unlikely to change too much with a loss, but a win would have him an Anfield all-timer.

The stage can do wild things to a man, even when that man has spent plenty of time on that stage.

BONUS: Harry Kane versus his ankle

Yeah, this is cheating, but the Englishman’s fitness is the X-factor of the UCL Final. Virgil Van Dijk has the goods to deal with a fully fit Kane, but if he’s simply tasked with managing a half-ready decoy? Well, that’s big stuff.

Still, Kane’s 1-4-4 record against Spurs doesn’t have a ton to do with his scoring record, as he’s managed five goals and two assists in those matches. If he’s ready to go, Spurs obviously have a much better chance at glory.

Chelsea needs to wait “48 hours” to assess Mount

Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Andreas Schaad/Bongarts/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.