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Similar paths lead Klopp, Pochettino to date with destiny

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MADRID – They hail from Germany and Argentina and are respected and admired across the world mainly because of one thing: they are genuine.

Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are leading the new wave of lovable, charismatic managers and have redefined how to build a strong culture and identity at a Premier League club.

[ MORE: Full UCL Final preview ]

They let their emotions pour out on the sidelines. They speak with passion in press conferences. They love their players unconditionally. They are human and fans understand them. They are relatable. The kind of blokes you would enjoy sitting down the pub with to grab a pint and talk about the game. They come across that way in front of the TV cameras and they are like that behind-the-scenes when journalists speak with them on or off the record. They are just normal guys living their dreams.

The latter cannot really be said about Pep Guardiola, so Klopp and Pochettino are the lovable characters who speak the game in the same language as the fans who adored their players. The names of Pochettino and Klopp were sung loud and proud in the streets of Madrid in the lead up to this final and they will be sung long after Saturday’s grand finale.

The similarities between the way Pochettino and Klopp act is at times startling, and both were cracking jokes and smiling on the eve of their finest moment as a manager. For one of them…

“There are two clubs in the final who have built step-by-step. I respect a lot what Poch and Tottenham have done,” Klopp said when speaking to the media before the final. “They are a very talented group but what they did together, how they improved together, we had to do it a different way, but in a way it is still similar. Two proper teams in this final. It’s a real football final, now both have to deal with that because it makes the game pretty intense… We’re really looking forward to a proper game I’m sure.”

That respect was reciprocated by Pochettino, as he hailed the German coach for reaching a third UCL final in his career and a second-straight trip to European soccer’s biggest game.

“For Jurgen to be here 10 months ago and be here again now is special. I admire Jurgen a lot. He’s a very good example. Maybe he has been a little bit unlucky, but it is the third time he is going to arrive at this final – the most difficult thing is to arrive at the final,” Pochettino said. “Sometimes the universe is with you, sometimes it’s against you. But to arrive in a third champions league final? I admire him a lot. Of course we are in football because we want to win but I think the journey to the final of the Champions League is the most important and the most difficult thing.”

Respect has been earned and they respect one another.

[ MORE: Kane fit? | Klopp positive ]

Their paths to get to this date with destiny have been similar. The way expectations have been altered at their clubs is down to them and the vision they’ve shared with their players and the way it has been carried it. Off the pitch both teams have moved forward in terms of stadium development, while Liverpool’s financial muscle and global appeal still puts them far ahead of Spurs in terms of the resources they have.

Whatever happens on Saturday both clubs have done things the right way.

Pochettino arrived in England in January 2013 and took struggling Southampton to an eighth-place Premier League finish in an 18-month spell before joining Tottenham in the summer of 2014, as he led Spurs to the League Cup final, four-straight top four finishes and now a UCL final. He did this with a young, hungry team with a clear playing style which punched above its weight time and time again.

Klopp arrived in England in October 2015 at Liverpool and his first game as Reds boss was at Tottenham against Pochettino. Since then Klopp has taken Liverpool to four major finals – the Europa League, Champions League and League Cup — but lost three of them, and his side came agonizingly close to winning the PL title ahead of this showdown in Madrid. The have spent big over the last 12 months to get them to the final stage, winning trophies, and now they must deliver.

Both have led their teams on an upward trajectory in impressive fashion, dragging the fans and everyone connected with their clubs along on the journey with them. But one thing evades them…

A trophy.

The debate over whether Klopp or Pochettino’s respective reigns have been ‘successful’ continues to end with, ‘but yeah, what have they won?’ and of course silverware is important.

[ MORE: How will the teams line up?

But the close-knit feeling in the squads they’ve created, the high-press, hard running playing styles they have ushered in as the new norm across the English game and the hope they’ve returned to their fanbases cannot be overlooked. Because of Klopp and Pochettino, fans of both clubs believe anything is possible.

And they’ve done all of that without pissing people off (for the majority of the time) and with smiles on their face.  Respect has followed the long, hard hours on the training ground.

Whichever manager wins the Champions League the wider soccer community will be delighted for them. Whichever manager loses will have their support amid major disappointment.

But, finally, one of them will hush the naysayers as they hoist the European Cup into the humid Madrid sky on Saturday evening.

Whatever happens in Madrid, Klopp and Pochettino won’t change one bit. And that is why they are loved.

MLS conference semifinal preview and predictions

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We’re not sure we should be allowed to make Major League Soccer playoff predictions after getting two upset bids wrong in the first round, but we go again anyway.

No, DC United did not outlast Toronto FC at BMO Field nor were the Portland Timbers able to get a win over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto but… we got the other four right?

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

It gets trickier at midweek for the conference semifinals, as two of those six victors from the weekend face well-rested one seeds (We suppose they could be rusty, not just well-rested).

NYCFC v. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
TFC 4-0 NYCFC (April 29)
NYCFC 1-1 TFC (Sept. 11)

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch. NYC’s only loss in its last 11 was a throwaway loss to a desperate Revolution side in New England. TFC has a lot of experience in spots like this, but Dome Torrent’s done an incredible job with City. It’s a coin toss, but ultimately it feels like that coin lands TFC side up. 2-1 aet.

Seattle v. Real Salt Lake  — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
Seattle 1-0 RSL (April 6)
RSL 3-0 Seattle (Aug. 14)

This one’s also close, as RSL has a number of players who won’t be bothered by the pressure but man is this home field advantage a real one. The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and haven’t lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer. Call it 2-0 for Seattle.

Atlanta United v. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
ATL 1-1 Philly (March 17)
Philly 3-1 ATL (Aug. 31)

The Union are resilient, and Jim Curtin seeing success is an absolute joy. So deserved, but Frank De Boer is showing his mettle in making the tough decisions and Ezequiel Barco looks a terror. A side that is able to bring Tito Villalba and Pity Martinez off the bench is unfair. Atlanta, 3-1.

LAFC v. LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
Galaxy 3-2 LAFC (July 19)
LAFC 3-3 Galaxy (Aug. 25)

Can hardly wait for this one. Bob Bradley and Carlos Vela look to send Zlatan Ibrahimovic packing after a riotous summer competition. LAFC is so, so good, and the lack of rest for the Galaxy is a problem. Still, betting against Zlatan seems borderline insane, and Jonathan dos Santos has big game mettle of his own. We’ll call it 2-2 and a place in penalty kicks, where David Bingham’s the difference for the Galaxy in a history-writing upset that takes El Trafico to the next level. Yes, we are predicting for storylines now.

Champions League preview: Chelsea, Liverpool hit the road

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Frank Lampard has a selection headache amongst his wingers as he tries to figure out Chelsea’s best avenue to break down Ajax on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic starred in the Blues’ weekend win, and Lampard also has Pedro and Willian available at Johan Cruyff Arena before a weekend visit to Burnley.

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

From ChelseaFC.com:

“Callum gave me that in his display from the start and Christian gave me that in his display coming on, and in terms of the wingers I have, Willian gave me that, Pedro gives me that so I have good selection problems when people come on and make a difference. That is what we are all about.

“The extra level that is the Champions League, the detail, the focus, concentration for 90 minutes, making the most of tiny moments, will be a test for all the young players, not just Callum.”

The good news for Pulisic in his bid to match wits with fellow USMNT (for now) player Sergino Dest is that he’s had experience on the UCL stage with Borussia Dortmund.

The other PL side in action is Liverpool, and the Reds will be expecting to get all three points in Belgium against Genk.

But Genk drew Napoli 0-0 at home on the second match day and the Reds will be wary of a slip-up.

“It’s a really good football-playing team,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. “They are organized and brave in their positioning. They don’t play with the pressing line too much but go for second balls, have speed and good midfielders and very active full-backs.”

Klopp will not have Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Joel Matip (knee).

Other highlights…

— American manager Jesse Marsch hopes to lead Red Bull Salzburg to a home win over Napoli when he matches wits with Carlo Ancelotti.

Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan could really use a result against tricky Borussia Dortmund in Italy.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Ajax v. Chelsea
RB Leipzig v. Zenit Saint-Petersburg

3 p.m. ET
Slavia Prague v. Barcelona
Red Bull Salzburg v. Napoli
Genk v. Liverpool
Inter Milan v. Borussia Dortmund
Lille v. Valencia
Benfica v. Lyon

Man City’s Guardiola issues Rodri update; Zinchenko also injured

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola expects to be without Rodri for at least a couple of matches after his heavily relied-on midfielder hurt his hamstring on Tuesday.

Rodri was removed from the match after 40 minutes, having partnered with Fernandinho at center back for the second-straight match.

[ MORE: Man City 5-1 Atalanta ]

A center mid and a fine one by trade, Rodri’s absence coupled with the still-hurt Aymeric Laporte leaves City significantly weaker in its heart.

“I think tomorrow we will know and hopefully it will be between 10 days if it is not broken,” Guardiola said. “If it is broken, it will be three weeks or one month.”

The club also announced before the match that Oleksandr Zinchenko had suffered a knee injury and will undergo tests.

City visits Aston Villa this weekend and then hosts Southampton in the League Cup and the Premier League before a visit to Atalanta in the Champions League.

That’s when Liverpool at Anfield arrives on the schedule, and the absence of Rodri would take some of the luster off of it for sure.

Report: Dest will announce international decision this week

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Ajax defender Sergino Dest is expected to make a decision on his international future this week, according to a report in Holland.

Dest turns 19 on Nov. 3 and has two caps for the United States men’s national team after a sensational career with the program’s youth club.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

But he’s also eligible to represent his birth nation of the Netherlands, and is the starting right back for its most celebrated club.

The back turned down a call-up from Gregg Berhalter last month as a cap in the CONCACAF Nations League would’ve tied him to the USMNT for the rest of his life.

It’s natural to feel that Dest would be inclined to choose the Netherlands, as Ronald Koeman‘s team is firing on all cylinders and Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT has been mostly miserable against significant competition. Berhalter also played Dest at left back in both of his caps versus Mexico and Uruguay, playing Reggie Cannon at Dest’s preferred right back.

But Dest has more history with the USMNT set-up, and the Yanks could still use him at the Olympics this summer (The Netherlands have not qualified for Tokyo). They have a puncher’s chance, but the timing of the announcement seems to lean toward Koeman.

The Dutch can qualify for EURO 2020 with a draw or better against Northern Ireland, meaning Koeman could blood a number of youngsters against minnows Estonia at Ajax’s home Johan Cruyff Arena four days later.

Not to mention the report is coming out of Holland. You’d feel a whole lot better if an American outlet was reporting it, but maybe that’s just negativity following the USMNT’s recent play. The Dutch set-up has a much better history than the USMNT. There’s a lure there, and we can hope that Dest feels tied into the USMNT.