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Top five storylines for Champions League final

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One all-Premier League European final down, one to go. The Champions League final pits Liverpool against Tottenham on Saturday, and there is plenty to lap up across the 90 minutes or more.

1. Liverpool looks for redemption

Liverpool has fallen just short of reaching a few monstrous pinnacles, and supporters have had to endure brutal second-place finishes over the past 12 months.

First, they lost last year’s Champions League final to Real Madrid 3-1 on a Gareth Bale brace to break the deadlock. Many Reds fans feel they were slighted after Sergio Ramos tackled Mohamed Salah and forced him off injured just 31 minutes in with the game still scoreless.

Second, the Reds put up a vicious fight in this year’s Premier League, giving defending champions Manchester City a battle to the wire, but came up just short despite a record points haul for a Premier League second-place finisher. It was a season that would have won the title in almost every other English top-flight season, but with Manchester City up to the task, Liverpool has been forced to accept the consolation prize.

“I took a lot of experience from it; hopefully I can use that,” Virgil van Dijk said to BBC Sport in reference to last year’s loss to Madrid. “Losing a final is painful.”

Which brings us to our next storyline…

1a. Jurgen Klopp hoping to break his finals streak

Dating back to his days with Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has lost six straight Cup finals. The Reds are hoping that Klopp’s brutal record in silverware games does not become intertwined into a larger club narrative of second-place finishes.

Finishing as runners-up can be sustainable for only so long, and the Reds will not want to waste this window of opportunity completely. Despite the fabulous season bringing Man City to the final week and reaching the Champions League final, finishing the year with nothing to show for the fight would be painful for players and supporters alike. It has undoubtedly been a fabulous campaign, but no trophy haul would severely dampen the luster on the season and bring Jurgen Klopp’s ability to lead Liverpool to the pinnacle of their ascent into question.

2. Mauricio Pochettino searches for accelerant to his Spurs project

The Argentine took over Spurs in 2014 hoping to mold the London club into a perennial Premier League challenger. While they have yet to become a consistent title contender in the Premier League, a Champions League crown would no doubt boost those plans and give Pochettino a tangible sign that his project is speeding along.

It’s clear that turning even a consistent European participant into a Premier League giant takes years of planning and sustainable squad growth, but success in a top-level tournament setting would boost the club’s pedigree significantly and turn it into an even more attractive destination for incoming players who wish to prevail in Europe’s top competition.

Amid reports that Pochettino could leave to take a bigger-name job like Manchester United and Juventus, Pochettino could cement his status as the usher of the club’s next chapter with Champions League glory, and in doing so, giving him the unique opportunity to stay in North London long-term as a Wenger-esque club legend in a league familiar with managerial turnover.

3. Club talismans Eriksen, Salah battle for tangible justification

Christian Eriksen and Mohamed Salah share a lot in common. They both serve as the face of the club’s attacking threat, and they both have nothing to show for their time at the club aside from fan admiration. That will change as one of them will win a Champions League winners medal, solidifying themselves as more than just a bunch of goals and fan favorite status.

For Eriksen, it could mean even more as the Dane is rumored to be leaving the club this summer. With Tottenham reportedly chasing Giovani Lo Celso, it could signal that Eriksen is off to the greener pastures (literally $$$) of Real Madrid, ending a sparkling six-year run in West London. What a way to go out on top and leave your legacy at a club.

4. Harry Kane‘s return

Imagine suffering an injury and thinking your season was over, only to come back for the biggest game in club history.

It has been seven weeks since Harry Kane hobbled down the tunnel in London, out with ligament damage to his troublesome ankle. His ability to impact the game is a complete unknown, and it’s not even a guarantee he will make the starting lineup. Still, should Spurs need a goal either early or late, what a story it would be for Kane to come back and provide a landmark goal in the club’s history.

Kane defiantly declared himself fit, having returned to training and saying, “at the moment I feel good, I feel strong.” A rest may have done Kane well, as he struggled early this past campaign after a long previous season and busy World Cup summer, but has been successful in the past after coming back from injury layoffs. This season, Kane scored in three of his first four games back from his January ankle problems, and two seasons ago the story was the same. In November 2016 he scored five goals in four Premier League games back after missing a month, and later that year he missed three matches in early April before coming back to finish the season with 10 goals in the final eight matches. With just 90 minutes to make his mark, can Kane provide the same goalscoring threat he has so many times before for Tottenham?

5. First time finalists

Tottenham has reached the finals of the Champions League for the first time in club history, and that doesn’t bode well for Spurs. Each of the previous five first-time finalists have tasted defeat, with Borussia Dortmund the last club to reach the pinnacle on its first try back in 1997. Will Liverpool’s experience from last season be the key to victory for the Reds, or can Spurs develop a game plan to take down Klopp’s juggernaut and prevail in the club’s first go?

Spurs’ Kane scores from midfield to beat Juve

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Harry Kane lobbed Wojciech Szczesny from nearly 50 yards to send Tottenham Hotspur past Juventus early Sunday morning.

Maybe he wanted to embarrass a former North London Derby rival, or perhaps he just wanted to avoid penalties.

The goal was made more remarkable by Kane’s blast radius including two men marking him near the Juve part of the center circle.

[ MORE: Where will Bale go? ]

It was an entertaining International Champions Cup match on Sunday morning, with goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Gianluigi Buffon plenty busy.

Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench to assist and impress for Spurs and Matthijs de Ligt making his Juve debut as a sub.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain scored for Juve, and the latter probably should’ve won it with a dragged shot in the 83rd minute.

Spurs goals came courtesy of Erik Lamela, who tapped in a rebound of a bullet shot from 17-year-old Ryan Parrott, and Moura.

The Brazilian was fed into the box by a sweet Ndombele pass moments after the new Spurs midfielder subbed into the match.

Here is Ronaldo’s goal.

Bale leaving Real Madrid; Where to?

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Gareth Bale is not going to play for Real Madrid this season. The jersey he will pull onto his body remains a mystery.

Real manager Zinedine Zidane said that “it’d be better” for the club and player if he was sold tomorrow, claiming it’s nothing personal but that Bale is simply not in his plans.

[ MORE: Watford chasing Sarr ]

Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett poured gasoline on those comments by blasting the French legend as “a disgrace,” saying the player and agent are “working on” an exit.

From Marca.com:

“Zidane is a disgrace,” Barnett told AFP. “He shows no respect for a player that has done so much for Real Madrid.”

Obviously it’s far from disgraceful for Zidane to publicly admit that a massive player and personality may no longer fit the bill, and Barnett’s harsh words are more than agent talk: He wants a higher fee than will come from Real saying, “He’s 10000000000% available.”

Barnett does represent Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw, and there are so many reasons to think the Welshman could move to Manchester United. A return to Spurs is obviously romantic, but the club’s wage structure would be a concern to deeming this a fit.

Bale wasn’t fantastic last season, posting eight goals and three assists in under 1800 La Liga minutes and adding three goals and two assists in under 500 Champions League minutes (In fact, he was the 14th ranked player in UCL advanced stats according to Who Scored).

He is not far removed from monster campaigns with Real, and it’s no surprise that his production would drop off in a world without Cristiano Ronaldo around him (and vice versa, to a lesser degree).

There are a lot of reasons to wonder whether Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy would consider what it takes to bring Bale to town. It would instantly and realistically elevate the discussion about whether Spurs could seriously rival Liverpool and Man City for a Premier League title while adding Champions League mettle as well.

The idea of Bale playing with Harry Kane the way he worked with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema is electric, though the prospective move took a hit by Zidane’s lack of love for Christian Eriksen.

Bayern Munich is another potential avenue for Bale, as is the Chinese Super League.

But we wonder if the 30-year-old would sign up for massive David Beckham wages at Inter Miami with a loan to a Champions League side for a season ahead of the Super Becks’ opening campaign in MLS. What better way to engender some fan interest amongst Floridians and Manchester United fans than a nice loan? We’re sure Zlatan brought some Red Devils’ eyes to LA, for what it’s worth. Spurs would work here, too, as would any side hopeful of expanding their American imprint.

Maybe Bale isn’t ready for that step. He’d surely prefer adding to his four Champions League titles and probably likes the idea of doing some bigger things for Wales, but there’s a lot of dough in America and really it’s not going to cost him his place with the Welsh side (though concerns about competition would be legit).

Russian fans clash with baton-wielding police at stadium

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian soccer fans have criticized what they consider heavy-handed policing after clashes at a league game.

Video footage posted online shows police in riot gear beating Spartak Moscow fans on the stadium concourse after a game Saturday with FC Rostov, including two who have fallen to the ground. Fans have alleged they were kept tightly packed in the corridor after the game and then attacked by police with batons.

[ VIDEO: Nketiah leads Arsenal win ]

The Russian Football Union has told the Sport-Express newspaper that it is calling for an investigation and that “this kind of situation should not be repeated at stadiums.”

The Russian Premier League says in a statement that it is satisfied police acted correctly and accused Spartak fans of trying to free fellow supporters arrested earlier over allegations of throwing pyrotechnics.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Watford chasing Rennes, Senegal star Sarr

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Watford may capture one of the rising stars of the game.

Ismaila Sarr would cost the Hornets a club transfer record fee, and Sky Sports says that Watford and Rennes are about $10 million apart.

The Ligue 1 side reportedly wants $34 million for the Senegal national team right wing.

[ VIDEO: Nketiah leads Arsenal win ]

Sarr, 21, scored a goal and an assist in Senegal’s run to the Africa Cup of Nations final, playing opposite Sadio Mane of Liverpool.

He posted 13 goals with 14 assists last season between Ligue 1, the French Cup, and the Europa League. He was the lone Rennes player to score against Arsenal in the UEL Round of 16.

Watford has held onto Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dodi Lukebakio this offseason. Lukebakio is also a 21-year-old right wing, and had a sensational loan season with Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2019-20.