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Win or lose Champions League final, not much changes for Spurs

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Whether Tottenham Hotspur win or lose Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, 24 players, a coaching staff and an entire fanbase will be feeling the emotional weight of having gone through the wringer of the biggest, most important game in all of club soccer, but precious little will have actually changed about where the club goes from there.

[ MORE: Similar paths led Klopp, Pochettino to date with destiny ]

When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed to replace Tim Sherwood back in 2014, the objectives on which he would be judged were clear: stabilize the first-team squad after a period of unsettling turnover, and get the club back into the Champions League by the time the new stadium was set to open (whenever that would eventually be). As would become the calling card of Pochettino’s tenure, things moved quicker than expected and he needed just two seasons to get them there, and now it’s increasingly difficult to imagine the Champions League without Tottenham in it (three straight seasons with another on the horizon, and a trip to the final).

In that way — and so many others — Pochettino has normalized success at a club starved of such satisfaction for the longest time, for much of its tortured existence. “Spursy” used to be finding the worst, most painful way to fail; now, it’s facing up to some of the biggest clubs in the world without an ounce of fear and seeing themselves as every bit an equal — it’s the most tangible way in which the team represents its manager. Win or lose, this doesn’t change.

[ MORE: How will Spurs, Liverpool line up for Champions League final? ]

If we’re all presently in agreement that Pochettino has done a masterful job to massage an already-short, then injury-ravaged, squad and guide it (somehow) to this game, that won’t have changed and suddenly become untrue based on the result of 90 (or 120) minutes against. If he was on the shortlist for every managerial vacancy in the world, he’ll still be there after a defeat.

Having endured two straight transfer windows without signing a single player, followed by the season (and three-fourths) away from home that would never end, followed by the injury crisis brought about by the lack of transfer dealings, followed by stoppage-time deficits (or deficits that nearly were) into the final seconds of the quarterfinals and semifinals, Spurs’ season has already gone to the brink of falling apart in that cruelest, most painful way imaginable, only for Pochettino’s men to drag themselves through to the other side as lilywhite heroes time and again. Win or lose, that incredible ride doesn’t get erased.

[ MORE: Liverpool: Spurs matches “the toughest games we’ve played” ]

On the other hand, Spurs upsetting the applecart and knocking off Liverpool — the heavy favorites that they are — wouldn’t change the fact that Pochettino’s project is still just that: a project now ahead of schedule, but still with far to go.

The goal was never to get to this one final, on this one day, in this one season; it was always to set the club up for long-term sustainability, so as to claim their place as one of the Premier League’s elite in the same way we now think of Manchester City and Chelsea, and the way we used to think of Manchester United and Arsenal. Part of those club’s present-day narratives are down to their own hilarious failings, to be sure, but another (not insignificant) part is down to being a dysfunction operation in comparison to what’s been happening at White Hart Lane.

Win or lose on Saturday, none of it changes.

[ MORE: Report: Maurizio Sarri to be released from Chelsea contract ]

It should be said, in the interest of fairness: Saturday’s showpiece in Madrid does have the feeling of a crossroads moment for the club.

A number key figures could very well move on in the summer. Toby Aldeweireld, who has a $31-million release clause in his contract going forward, and Christian Eriksen, who could be one of any number of stars headed to Real Madrid, are chief among them. Their theoretical departures would, of course, allow for necessitate a bit of transfer activity to breathe new life into the squad — something Spurs fans desperately crave — but with it would come a sense of tearing down and rebuilding a core group that has traced a trajectory beyond anything once thought possible.

To shed the tags of “bottlers” and “sure, finishing above your rivals is nice, but you still haven’t won a trophy” by winning the Champions League trophy — the trophy — at the expense of Liverpool, and before Man City or Arsenal could do it, would be the cherry on top of the ride of a lifetime. This might be as good as it ever gets for Spurs, which means one or two things has gone horrifically wrong in the future, which makes this present moment mean that much more.

Bruce explains taking wheel at wobbly Newcastle United

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Steve Bruce didn’t have it in him to turn down his boyhood club again.

The well-traveled manager and Manchester United legend has taken the reins at combustible Newcastle United after Rafa Benitez walked away from the club this summer.

[ MORE: Sturridge punished ]

Bruce was Sheffield Wednesday manager when that happened, but simply could not resist the lure of managing at St. James’ Park.

He’s also quite confident in his abilities. From The Chronicle:

“I know in some people’s eyes, I’m not Rafa and I know there are big shoes to fill but believe me, I’ll give it everything I possibly can and hopefully I prove the doubters wrong.”

Bruce certainly does not have Benitez’s resume, but has had success in lower leagues. He’s led Birmingham City and Hull City to a pair of promotions each.

If Newcastle backs him as rumored, he may be able to have one of his better Premier League seasons, but his being backed is a wobbly proposition at best (The club is being linked with monster Hoffenheim forward Joelinton).

Bruce knows things have been largely poor at Newcastle United under owner Mike Ashley, and that the club could be taken over by new owners with different ambitions for their manager’s position.

But, again, this is the club he’s supported since he was a boy.

“As I said the easy thing would to have been to say no but I just hope that people show the respect which you obviously only gain by getting results and doing the job, but hopefully that will go hand in hand.”

It’s another Zlatan day, as Galaxy star rips Vela, talks Area 51

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic took a shot at his rivals and his league in one fell swoop.

Perhaps Major League Soccer’s hit is down to proximity and not intent, but the LA Galaxy star certainly didn’t disguise his feelings when asked whether LAFC star Carlos Vela is the best player in the league.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Vela, 30, has lit MLS on fire to the tune of 19 goals and eight assists in 19 matches, driving the second-year squad to the top of the Western Conference.

Zlatan and the Galaxy’s seasons have trailed behind, relatively speaking. The third-place Galaxy are 12 points behind LAFC, with Ibrahimovic contributing 13 goals and three assists in three fewer games.

“29, he’s playing in MLS and he’s in his prime. When I was 29, where was I?”

Herculez Gomez replies that Ibrahimovic was in Europe (Vela turned 30 in March. At 29, Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in 41 appearances for AC Milan, on loan from Barcelona. At 30, he scored 35 in 44 for Milan).

“Big difference, exactly.”

Vela, for what it’s worth, spent 2005-17 in Europe. Anyway, here is the exchange.

But wait, there’s more.

Zlatan was also quizzed on Area 51 while in a scrum. For those who may not know, Area 51 is a classified United States military facility in Nevada which has long been speculated as the home of extraterrestrial testing and scientific experimentation.

He doesn’t need to worry about going there, because he has his own Area 51 and there is only one Zlatan.

Who will make Ballon d’Or final three?

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When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or last summer, marking the first victor neither named Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007, it threatened to signal a new era for the trophy in more ways than one.

Ronaldo didn’t win the honors, finishing second, but Messi was inexplicably left off the final ballot altogether.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Could this be the year that neither makes the top three? Probably not, but it could be the first time Ronaldo fails to make the list since Barca swept the honors Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi in 2010.

So while most of us are not thinking of the award right now, Ronaldo has it on his brain. It’s no surprise that Marca, known for its backing of Real Madrid royalty, has thrown his name in the mix as a “favorite” given his scudetto with Juventus. That it mentions his performance in the UEFA Nations League is a little goofy — it was a two-match summer — but such is life.

Ronaldo and Messi are deadlocked on five Ballons d’Or, the most ever, and Messi’s year was superior to his longtime rival. Both won their leagues and Messi did not claim domestic honors at the Copa America — in fact he was not his phenomenal self — but Messi scored 12 goals in 10 Champions League appearances before Liverpool stunned Barcelona prior to the final (Ronaldo’s Juve lost to Ajax).

Marca proffers this “I don’t care but obviously I very much care” from CR7:

“I don’t live with an obsession about awards,” Ronaldo explained. “My numbers don’t lie, this year I’ve won three titles and I’ve been good in the Nations League. What else can I do?”

Ronaldo, it should be noted, was still incredible last season. He scored all three goals as Juventus erased a 2-0 first leg deficit in the UCL Round of 16 versus old rivals Atletico Madrid, then scored in both legs of the side’s exit via Ajax. And he likely would’ve won the top scorer’s prize in Italy had he not missed six matches through injury and rest.

Messi again breached the half-century mark in goals, scoring 51 times in all competitions for Barcelona. He chipped in 22 assists and also missed six matches between the UCL and La Liga.

Are there three players who could surpass both to make a new final three?

It would be stunning if Liverpool and Netherlands center back Virgil Van Dijk was kept off the top three, while Sadio Mane may have a Champions League crown and Africa Cup of Nations victory. And you can follow the Luka Modric logic to a land where treble- and Nations League-winning Bernardo Silva is in the discussion (Raheem Sterling was also great).

Kylian Mbappe had probably the best-looking season on Earth, scoring 39 times with 17 assists in 43 matches and navigating the attention that came with Neymar’s long-term absence by shouldering the burden to great success. We made the argument that his 19 goals and six assists in 23 Neymar-free matches is one of the prime reasons he’s be worth almost any transfer fee.

Also remember that the odds of the captains of international teams having enough ballots without Ronaldo and/or Messi named is very difficult to imagine.

Still, Messi, Mbappe, and Van Dijk seems like the final three to us. What do you think?

LIVE — UEL second legs will determine possible Wolves opponents

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Wolverhampton Wanderers will find out its first Europa League opponent on Friday, and the field will be winnowed with a bevy of second qualifying round second legs on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Malmo, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Rangers, Legia Warsaw, and Hajduk Split are the biggest names in play on Thursday, with only the Polish side failing to hold an advantage after the first leg.

American forward Romain Gall is in the mix for Malmo, though he’s been an unused sub of late for the Swedish powers. That could change today, with Malmo in Northern Ireland with a 7-0 advantage over Ballymena United.

You can follow the dozens of ties by clicking the link above.