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Three key battles in the Champions League Final

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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.

Premier League weekend friendlies: Man Utd-Inter, PL Asia Trophy

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This weekend in Premier League preseason friendlies sees Liverpool taking on a pair of top European foes, while four PL foes trade blows in Shanghai.

Man City and Wolves move on from significant defeats of Newcastle and West Ham, who in turn will face each other on Saturday.

You can watch Saturday’s Premier League Asia Trophy matches between Wolves and Man City, and Newcastle versus West Ham here on NBC Sports Live.

Meanwhile, Manchester United will tangle with Romelu Lukaku-chasing Inter Milan on Saturday (and, no, the Belgian striker won’t be in uniform).

There’s also a sneaky good match-up of Watford and Bayer Leverkusen in Austria on Saturday, while Sunday’s light docket has Spurs facing Matthijs de Ligt and Juventus in Singapore.

Friday
Borussia Dortmund v. Liverpool (Notre Dame, Indiana)

Saturday
Girona v. Bournemouth
Arsenal
v. Fiorentina (Charlotte)
Fulham v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Cheltenham Town v. Leicester City
Crewe Alexandra v. Burnley
Port Vale v. Burnley
Bromley v. Crystal Palace
Man City 
v. Wolves (Shanghai)
Inter Milan v. Manchester United (Singapore)
Newcastle United v. West Ham (Shanghai)
Northampton Town v. Sheffield United
Preston North End v. Southampton
Watford 
v. Bayer Leverkusen (Austria)

Sunday
Shrewsbury Town v. Aston Villa
Liverpool 
v. Sevilla (Boston)
Juventus v. Spurs (Singapore)

PL friendly wrap: Pukki leads Norwich past Schalke

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London sides went 0-2, while three other Premier League sides won ahead of Friday night’s friendly between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund in Indiana.

[ MORE: Algeria wins AFCON ]

The wins included defeats of Schalke and Monaco, while Brighton and Hove Albion topped lower league Crawley Town.

Schalke 1-2 Norwich City

Teemu Pukki had a goal and an assist, giving hope that the Championship goal collector can bring his game to the Premier League.

Pukki’s 13th minute goal was assisted by Man City loanee Patrick Roberts, and the Finn later assisted Moritz Leitner‘s winner.

Rabbi Matondo scored Schalke’s only goal, and American midfielder Weston McKennie was neither with the starters nor the bench.

Everton 1-0 Monaco

Seamus Coleman scored and Maarten Stekelenburg stopped a penalty as the Toffees handled their Ligue 1 opposition in Switzerland.

Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 ChelseaRECAP

Leandro Damaio scored the lone goal as Chelsea had plenty of chances to win in Christian Pulisic‘s debut. The American came off the bench for the final 25 minutes in Japan.

Nottingham Forest 1-0 Crystal Palace

Albert Adomah scored the lone goal in a win for the Championship side.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Crawley Town

New signing Taylor Richards‘ late penalty kick was enough for the Seagulls to get a result at home. The Man City midfielder arrived on Thursday.

Liverpool v. Borussia Dortmund (Notre Dame, Indiana) — 8 p.m. ET

Algeria wins Africa Cup of Nations

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In the words of a Missouri-born rapper, you only get one shot. In Algeria’s case in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, that was true and it was all the Desert Foxes needed to claim their first AFCON title since 1990 with a 1-0 defeat of Senegal on Friday at Cairo International Stadium in Cairo.

Baghdad Bounedjah’s wildly-deflected second minute shot was enough to give Algeria its second AFCON crown.

Senegal out shot Algeria 11-1 on the day, but Sadio Mane and Co. couldn’t find their way over the goal line.

One-time Man City and Southampton player Djamel Belmadi has now managed an AFCON winner and a Gulf Cup of Nations champion (Qatar, 2014).

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or w/o Messi, Ronaldo? ]

Bounedjah’s wild rip after a cut-in from the left bounded into the air and looped into the far corner. Senegal goalkeeper Amigo Gomis made it look more odd with his befuddlement (Scramble, my guy!).

Referee Neant Alioum’s ruling of a penalty to Senegal after Ismaila Sarr’s rip hit the arm of Adlene Guedioura was overturned when review showed the Algeria midfielder’s arm was at his side.

We mean, was this going to be the goal that won Africa’s most important tournament? Yep.

Ajax seals El Tri’s young star Alvarez for $17M

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Ajax has developed a ton of youngsters, and now has a pair of CONCACAF starlets in the fold for 2019-20.

A day after selling Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus for a reported $84 million, the Dutch side has delivered on reports that it wanted Edson Alvarez.

That puts the 21-year-old Mexican defender/defensive midfielder in the Eredivisie side with 18-year-old Dutch-American defender Sergino Dest.

While Dest has yet to break into the full USMNT, playing in the U-20 World Cup this summer, Alvarez already has 28 caps and five goals for El Tri.

He’ll bring a relative wealth of experience from Club America, and Ajax could use him to help offset the sale of Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona. While Alvarez has played a lot of center back in Liga MX, he’s been used at defensive midfielder by Tata Martino with the national team.

The reported fee is $17 million, according to Goal.