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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.

Premier League Friendly Roundup: Leicester, Norwich in action

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Ayoze Perez got off to a great start for his new club on Tuesday, as Leicester topped Scunthorpe United, 1-0.

Perez, who arrived earlier this month from Newcastle in a $38 million transfer, scored on a first-time strike in the box that proved to be the difference in the game.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brendan Rodgers side got a chance to get minutes for plenty of first-team regulars. Johnny Evans, Jamie Vardy, Perez and Youri Tielemans all started. Wes Morgan, new signing James Justin, Rachid Ghezzal all came off the bench.

An interesting note was that Harry Maguire, the target of serious transfer interest from Manchester United, came off the bench at halftime and played the second half of the game. According to the latest reports, Man United and Leicester City are still very far apart regarding a transfer fee, so Maguire looks set to remain for the time being.

Elsewhere, Norwich City continued its preseason tour of Germany with a friendly match held behind closed doors. Norwich beat Bonner SC, 4-1, with goals from Adam Idah, Onel Hernandez and Teemu Pukki.

UCL Roundup: Red Star, The New Saints (Wales) advance to second round

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Second legs are underway in the UEFA Champions League first qualification round, and both Red Star Belgrade and The New Saints from Wales are through to the second round.

Here’s a short roundup of UCL action on Tuesday:


Red Star Belgrade 2-1 Sudova (2-1 on Aggregate)

The Serbian giants advance to the next round with a big 2-1 win over Lithuanian Champions Sudova. Richmond Boakye and former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin both scored in the first half. Red Star Belgrade was set to keep a clean sheet but Sudova scored late.

With the win, Red Star Belgrade moves on to face HJK Helsinki in Finland in the second round.


The New Saints 1-0 Feronikeli (3-2 on aggregate)

Welsh Premier League side The New Saints defeated Kosovan club Feronikeli, 1-0, thanks to a goal from Irish forward Dean Ebbe. Ebbe came off the bench and headed home a lofted ball into the box.

Feronikeli had chances to take the lead early, including twice in the first ten minutes, but blasted shots in the box well over the wall.

UEFA Champions League Second Leg Results

Shkendija 1 – 2 Nõmme Kalju 
Saburtalo 1 – 3 FC Sheriff
Valletta 1 – 1 F91 Dudelange
HB 2 – 2 HJK 

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

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In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.

MLS Notes: Shea out for season with torn ACL, and more

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It appeared Brek Shea had finally gotten his career back on track, only for a serious injury to end his season prematurely.

Atlanta United announced on Tuesday that Shea had suffered a “right knee injury” that will involve season-ending surgery. An earlier report from the Athletic stated it was a torn ACL, which could leave Shea sidelined into the start of next season.

[READ: de Ligt arrives in Turin]

Shea has made 10 starts out of 19 appearances so far this season for Atlanta, where he’s often played as a left wing back or left midfielder, offering speed down the flank and a deeper starting position to connect with Atlanta’s talented attackers. A good season from Shea could have propelled him back into the USMNT conversation, especially if he took part in next season’s January camp. Now, that option is off the table.

Here’s some more MLS news and notes:

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