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UEFA Champions League final preview: Tottenham v. Liverpool

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  • Liverpool aim to win 6th UCL trophy
  • Spurs’ first UCL final in club history
  • Klopp, Pochettino yet to win trophy at their clubs
  • First all-English final since 2008, only 2nd in UCL history

MADRID – And then there were two.

Two teams from the Premier League. Two finalists for the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid, Spain. Two hugely likeable managers aiming to win their first trophy with their respective clubs. Two sets of largely likeable players who have worked for this moment for the past four seasons and have defied the odds to get to the showpiece event in world club soccer.

[ MORE: How will teams line up?

Both could have gone out in the group stage but rallied to make the knockout rounds. Both trailed 3-0 in their semifinals against but overturned those deficits with incredible victories to dump Barcelona and Ajax out of the competition. These two teams aren’t really meant to be here. But they are. And everyone connected with the clubs is making the most of being in Madrid.

Tottenham Hotspur versus Liverpool. White versus red. London versus northern England. This is all very familiar, but this time the streets of the Spanish club are overrun with the English as an estimated 80,000 fans have flocked to Madrid for the final at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium, which holds 67,000.

The two teams trained at the site of Saturday’s final (kick off, 3 p.m. ET) on Friday evening, one after another going through their final preparations in the scorching Spanish sun.

[ MORE: Kane fit? | Klopp positive ]

In the 90 degree-plus heat, 90 minutes will define not only their playing careers but also those of Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, neither of whom have won trophies at their respective clubs.

Sure, they’ll get other chances to win trophies and reach finals, but the Champions League? No, no. Moments, and games, like this only come around a few times in a lifetime if you’re lucky. With fans assembled in Madrid, packed into Plazas and lining bars as far as the eye can see, the party atmosphere is strong. This is exactly the kind of occasion players, managers and fans all dream about.

Locals are laughing and dancing in the streets with fans, while everywhere you go people ask “so, who will win?” Spain’s capital city is also a soccer mad city and everything has been lined up perfectly for the Premier League clubs to give this competition a fitting finale.

But, that pressure wasn’t exactly palpable when both Klopp and Pochettino spoke to the hordes of assembled media on Friday.

Klopp has lost six of his seven major finals as a manager, including all three of his finals at Liverpool, but was relaxed and cracked several jokes. Pochettino smiled often, but kept his cards close to his chest when it came to the one piece of team news which dominated the build-up to this game.

Tottenham’s leading goalscorer Harry Kane has been out since Apr. 9 with yet another ankle injury. But he’s declared himself fit. Does Pochettino risk playing Kane from the start and upset the balance of his team? Would it be a greater risk to save Kane for a late cameo, but then be out of the game by the time he would come on? Pochettino gave nothing away about Kane, just as Klopp refused to talk about Roberto Firmino‘s fitness.

These teams know one another so well that this final may not be as much of a blood and thunder affair as we hope it will be. Liverpool edged by Spurs 2-1 in both of their Premier League encounters this season, but the second game in particular could have swung in Tottenham’s favor late on.

The margins are so fine. The teams so closely matched. The managers so similar in their ideologies. The recent trajectory of both clubs so alike.

Two great English teams do battle for the biggest title in the club game.

One will enter the history books as truly great European champions.


What they’re saying

Klopp on his poor record in major finals: “If I would be the reason for losing six times in a row, then everyone should be really worried. If that’s not the case, then we always have a chance. That is how we see it actually.”

Pochettino on the importance of a decision on Kane: “It’s not easy to make decisions for tomorrow. We have all the information, we know every single detail and we’ll make the right decision to win. It’s so painful when this kind of game arrives and you can only use 11 players, it’s the most painful situation. I asked UEFA to have the whole squad together, and tomorrow the whole squad will take a photo on the pitch together.”

Andrew Robertson on Tottenham being called the underdogs in the final: “I don’t think they’re underdogs. When we’ve played in the Premier League it’s been the toughest games we’ve played. We know we can cause them problems. Both have very good squads, it is who shows up better on the day. For me it’s very even.”

Harry Winks on what reaching the final means to Tottenham: “The occasion is massive. It shows just how far Tottenham has come as a club. It will be a special and emotional night.”


Prediction

Liverpool are the overwhelming favorites and rightly so. They won 97 points in the Premier League but finished second behind Man City for a reason. Klopp’s side lost in the final last season and do not appear to have a weakness. As for Spurs, they have upset all of the odds to be in this final. Kane’s fitness is their main concern, but they know the majority of the pressure is on Liverpool. Expect an upset to end what has been a season of upsets in the Champions League. Tottenham to win, 2-1.

Delph completes transfer to Everton

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Everton has added an England international in a move to bolster its midfield.

The club announced that it had signed Fabian Delph to a three-year contract, after an undisclosed permanent transfer from Manchester City. Delph comes to the blue half of Liverpool after spending the last four seasons at Manchester City, where he began as a central midfielder but was quickly pushed out wide as a left back, and only featured 20 times in all competitions for the Sky Blues last season.

“Every time I have played against Everton, whether it was home or away, straight away the first thing that comes to mind when you see the fans is passion,” Delph said on Everton’s website. “The Everton fans seem to know football, seem to understand it, it seems to be in their blood and they really back the team. You are always going to hear Evertonians and I’m excited to play at home and hear them when I am playing. I’m really happy to be here, I’m going to give absolutely everything – nothing less than 100 per cent.

Although it feels like he’s been around forever, Delph is actually still only 29-years-old, and should still have a few years left in the tank to help propel Everton to the next level. At the least, Delph adds steel and technical ability in the middle of the park, where he could likely partner with Andre Gomes, who made his move to Everton permanent this summer from Barcelona.

Delph also adds versatility, and that should help him stay in the Everton lineup, should it need him out wide or to play in the center of the park.

However, the most important aspect Delph brings is the winning mentality. Even though he didn’t play a massive role, Delph has had the opportunity to train and play alongside the likes of Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, all winners in their careers who do whatever it takes to get three points and win a title.

Bringing that attitude and mentality to Everton is huge for the club, which needs a lift after the departure of Wayne Rooney and other big names who have departed since the end of the David Moyes era.

Report: Ajax in negotiations to sign El Tri’s Alvarez

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One of the Mexico National Team’s brightest stars appears to be heading to Ajax, where he could potentially be the replacement for one Matthijs de Ligt.

According to a report in Voetbol International, a publication in the Netherlands, Ajax technical director Marc Overmars confirmed the club’s interest in signing Club America and El Tri defender Edson Alvarez. Club America are reportedly demanding nothing less than nearly $17 million for Alvarez, who has in just two years become a regular for El Tri.

[READ: USMNT’s Boyd signs with Besiktas]

The report states that Wolverhampton Wanderers – which has Alvarez’s El Tri teammate Raul Jimenez – and PSV Eindhoven were also interesting in signing Alvarez.

The 21-year-old made his debut for Club America as a right back under long-time Liga MX manager Ricardo La Volpe in 2016, and just a few months after his club debut, he was already playing for the national team. He was included and featured at the 2017 Gold Cup, becoming Mexico’s youngest scorer in the competition (at age 19) and he then started all four of Mexico’s games at the 2018 World Cup, including against Neymar and Brazil in the Round of 16.

Alvarez has continued his strong play over the past year and has moved into more of a centerback and holding midfielder role at times. He played as a No. 6 for Mexico in its 1-0 win over the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 2019 Gold Cup final, at times dropping into the back line to defend while providing support in the attack.

As Alvarez is still young but continues to grow, it’s a perfect time for him to join Ajax. There, he’ll face even better attackers than in Liga MX, and he’ll have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders to play for a prestigious club like Ajax. The pressure to perform will only make him better, like it’s helped countryman Hirving “Chucky” Lozano across the Netherlands at PSV Eindhoven.

Interestingly, Alvarez would be the second summer signing for Ajax with a North American connection. Defender Kik Pierie was actually born in Boston, while his father was studying at Harvard Medical School, though he’s been raised almost entirely in the Netherlands and has featured for the Oranje internationally.

USMNT’s Boyd signs with Besiktas

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Add another American to the list of players who will be playing in UEFA competitions this fall.

Turkish giant Besiktas announced on Monday that it had signed winger Tyler Boyd to a four-year contract in a transfer from Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes. Boyd has had a pretty impressive last six months, from scoring six goals in 14 games with Ankaragücü in the Turkish Superlig on loan, to scoring goals and making the Gold Cup roster for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

The New Zealand-born pacey winger completed a one-time switch to play for the USMNT in May, and he went on to score a brace in the USMNT’s Gold Cup opener against Guyana. While Boyd made five appearances for the U.S. this summer, he was left on the bench as the U.S. bowed out to Mexico, suddenly appearing out of Berhalter’s plans as quickly as he entered them.

Regardless, this is a great move for Boyd, assuming he can get some first team minutes. It’s a big step up from Ankaragücü to play for Besiktas, which not only includes the heated Istanbul derbies against Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, but next season will also include at least six matches in the UEFA Europa League. By finishing third in the Turkish league, Besiktas earned a place direct in the Europa League group stage.

Of course, like we saw this summer with the USMNT, Boyd has to break into a more talented group of players and earn minutes, both for league and European matches. If he’s not playing much, it’s possible we won’t see much of him with the national team, as Jordan Morris gets regular playing time as well as others in that position like Timothy Weah, Corey Baird and possibly Kenny Saief, now that he’s back with Anderlecht.

Boyd is undoubtedly a talented player. Hopefully, this move up in stature and pressure can help the 24-year-old take his game to a new level.

Report: Manchester United “miles” apart on Maguire deal

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Yesterday, the English tabloids exploded with reports that Manchester United was nearing a deal with Leicester City to make Harry Maguire the most expensive defender in the world with a $100 million deal nearly completed. Some even went so far as to suggest a medical would take place on Monday – today.

Now, there seems to be an about-face as ESPN senior writer Mark Ogden reports that the two sides are “miles away” on a potential deal, as his source describes it.

According to the report, Manchester United’s last bid of $50 million is much closer to their valuation of the player, and while Leicester City is holding out for a world record bid, the two sides have not made much movement towards an agreement. They are willing to go up to $75 million with another bid, but that is still well off the Leicester City price tag.

Ogden writes that Manchester United’s first choice was Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt, but he is nearing completion on a move to Juventus, and if the reports over the last few weeks are to be believed, Manchester United was never really in play. De Ligt was handed significant wages at Juventus, something Manchester United may not have been willing to do.

They turned their sights towards Maguire, but with three weeks left in the transfer window, there apparently needs to be significant work done on a deal to move it across the finish line. Ogden writes that there is “confidence” within Manchester United that Maguire wants the move, but that’s nothing if the two clubs can’t come to an agreement.