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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.

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 34

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We’re one week away from all Premier League clubs sitting on equal footing in terms of matches played, and may then have a true tale of favor in the battles for 17th place, seventh, and first.

[ MORE: Klopp on Messi match-up ]

But until then, we power rank.


20. Huddersfield Town — It’s a slow death followed by a long funeral procession, this one.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

19. Fulham — Showed enough quality to comfortably beat Everton, but how many players will stay at Craven Cottage through relegation?
Last week: 19
Season high: 11
Season low: 20

18. Cardiff City — The defeat of Brighton combined with the Seagulls’ diving form has Neil Warnock‘s men dreaming of safety; In a season with so many setbacks and the tragedy of Emiliano Sala, a place in the top flight for 2019-20 would be an immense achievement.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — What’s happened here? Points are going to be hard to come by the rest of the way, and Chris Hughton‘s men are in real trouble.
Last week: 17
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

16. Bournemouth — Had to feel good to hang five on Brighton, but the Cherries feel like they’ve hit their heights. Will Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson last the summer?
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 14

15. Newcastle United — Rafa Benitez deserves a raise and a real transfer budget. At almost any other club, he’d get both without a debate. But…
Last week: 14
Season high: 11
Season low: 19

14. Southampton — Ralph Hasenhuttl admits that Saints have to be a developmental club, but he’s getting a heck of a lot of performance from such a unit.
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

13. Crystal Palace — Nearly managed another notable result against Man City.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 17

12. West Ham United — Badly need a summer of rest and rejuvenation. Next season should be a legit Top Seven campaign.
Last week: 11
Season high: 6
Season low: 20

11. Burnley *New season high* The Clarets safety again underscores the import of Sean Dyche as a tiny club continues to grow in stability. 
Last week: 13
Season high: 11
Season low: 20

10. Leicester City — Losing to Newcastle at the King Power Stadium is a reminder that the style may look a little different under Brendan Rodgers, but it’s no surprise to many that simply changing managers won’t turn the Foxes back into a top contender. Wake us when you see a result Claude Puel was incapable of delivering. Remember: Puel helped Leicester beat Chelsea and Man City.
Last week: 9
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

9. Wolves — 
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

8. Everton
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 15

7. Watford — Performed admirably with 10 men against Arsenal, but it’s also hilarious the hoops people are jumping through the excuse Troy Deeney‘s shot at Lucas Torreira.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

6. Manchester United — A win at Goodison would sure soothe the nerves of those wondering about that full-time appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Last week: 7
Season high: 3
Season low: 14

5. Chelsea — The Blues have a weekend to recover from Thursday’s Europa League second leg versus Slavia Prague before meeting in-form Burnley at Stamford Bridge.
Last week: 3
Season high: 1
Season low: 7

4. Arsenal — Navigating Napoli with some early certainly would be huge given two league matches by Wednesday.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 9

3. Spurs — Forget that Spurs advanced in the Champions League on aggregate: Can Mauricio Pochettino‘s men put in a better defensive shift versus Man City than the 4-3 loss at midweek when the two sides renew acquaintances in Manchester?
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 8

2. Liverpool — The dream of a double more impressive than Man City’s is very real.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

  1. Manchester City — How does one rebound from Wednesday? Just how? Still the top dog in our rankings, but only just because getting six points from six against Spurs and Manchester United in under a week is a massive ask.
    Last week: 1
    Season high: 1
    Season low: 3

MLS: Sporting KC goes wire to wire, Atlanta United pipped by Cincinnati

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Atlanta United was moments away from putting a disappointing start to the season to bed, but in a moment, that all washed away, and the worries remained as the defending champions slumped to a 1-1 draw. Josef Martinez opened his 2019 MLS account just five minutes in to pilfer the lead, but the attack was toothless the rest of the way, and they paid for it down the stretch.

In the 86th minute, Atlanta’s defense caved, sucked forward which allowed Roland Lamah to sneak through and Kenny Saief fed him perfectly. Lamah finished past a helpless Brad Guzan one-on-one and Atlanta was pegged back. While Atlanta United had lost its previous two season openers as well, but each time previously they bounced back in roaring fashion. With Frank De Boer in control, fans are restless to see the team improve in time to keep from falling behind the early leaders.

Goalkeepers reigned supreme as NYCFC and DC United played to a 0-0 draw at Yankee Stadium. Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson filled the highlight reel, putting together nine saves between the two. Hamid was by far the busier of the two, facing 21 total shots from the hosts, with six saves of shots on target. Johnson, meanwhile, put together three saves, all of them good enough to make the postgame recap. Aside from the few big goalkeeping moments, however, the two sides produced little of interest for fans, fitting of a scoreless draw.

Sporting KC picked up its first points of the season as they earned a 2-0 victory at home against the Philadelphia Union. Ilie Sanchez put the hosts ahead with an 11th minute penalty after Auston Trusty fouled Gianluca Busio in the box. Tim Meila was required to stop Marco Fabian’s penalty past the half-hour mark, diving to his right to save the low effort. After halftime, the problems for Philadelphia would compound as Fabian was sent off for stamping on Jonny Russell’s stomach, landing on him after leaping to avoid a challenge, producing a VAR review and ultimately a straight red.

Once Philadelphia fell a man down, they were toothless up front and the hosts took control. They killed off the game in the 80th minute with an own-goal by Jack Elliott hoping to touch a cross out of play but instead poking it into the back of his own net.

LAFC stayed perfect on the season with a 4-1 win over Portland thanks to a roaring second half. The two teams traded set-piece goals in the opening half-hour. Mark-Anthony met a corner with a wild header, burying it into the back of the net despite having his back to the goal to put LAFC up, while Jeremy Ebobisse beat Eduard Atuesta to meet a free-kick with his head. LAFC went back in front right before the break as a sliding Christian Ramirez met a Jordan Harvey cross.

The final 45 minutes was total domination from the home side, out-passing Portland in the attacking third 84-27 throughout the second half, and they were rewarded on the scoresheet. Carlos Vela finished the night with three assists on the first three goals as Adama Diomande put LAFC 3-1 up in the 65th minute, and Vela scored his first goal of the season for LAFC’s fourth with a wonderful chipped finish from a tight angle. Portland saw Diego Chara sent off in the 72nd minute in hilarious fashion after earning his second yellow for flicking the ear of Diego Rossi who flopped like a fish after the contact.

Guardiola rips reports linking him to Juventus

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Pep Guardiola dismissed reports that he’ll be joining Juventus next season.

The Manchester City boss has won titles in England, Germany, and Spain, and there’s plenty of pressure on Max Allegri.

[ MORE: Piatek scores again ]

And Guardiola is upset by the rumors, given that he has two years left on his contract and Juve very much has a manager right now to go with a 19-point lead in Serie A.

“Why when someone says something on Twitter do the big newspapers say that for the next four years Pep is going to Juventus? I don’t understand why the people saying I am going to Juventus don’t try to call the club or call myself or call my agent or Juventus or Massimiliano Allegri. I feel so sorry for Massimiliano.”

Juventus is home this week in the UEFA Champions League and needs to overcome a 2-0 deficit to stingy Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.

Still, it’s hilarious that Allegri’s seat is hot even as Cristiano Ronaldo and Juve face dismissal from the UCL; Juve has a 19-point table lead having played one more match than Napoli.

Guardiola says he’ll be with City for at least two more seasons.

“Except if they sack me,” he said. “Then after, I go home. But if Manchester City want me I will stay for two more years and hopefully another one. I am not going to go to Juventus in the next two years.”

Europa League: Inter held, Napoli wins big, Benfica beaten

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Arsenal slumped to a 3-1 defeat on the road at Stade Rennais in the first leg of Europa Round of 16 play, while Chelsea hammered Dynamo Kiev 3-0 in a comprehensive victory.

The Gunners put forth a dismal performance in France, with Mesut Ozil the scapegoat again, putting together an uninspiring performance up front. Nacho Monreal gifted Rennais the lead with an odd own-goal and Rennais scored an important third as Ismaila Sarr beat Aaron Ramsey to a header at the back post in the 88th minute. Arsenal would have fancied its chances down 2-1 heading home, but they now have a two-goal deficit to make up.

[ MORE: Arsenal falls to Stade Rennais ]

Chelsea, meanwhile, enjoyed a dominating display at Stamford Bridge, taking a significant lead with them into the second leg in the Ukraine. Pedro scored the opener on a wonderful flick from Olivier Giroud, while Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi added the cherry on top as the Blues were in charge throughout. Chelsea finished the match with eight shots on target and held Dynamo to none.

[ MORE: Chelsea pummels Dynamo Kiev ]

Marcelo Brozovic missed a penalty and Ivan Perisic was yanked with an injury as a poor Inter performance resulted in a 0-0 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt. Lautaro Martinez was fouled in the penalty area on 22 minutes running away from goal chasing a loose ball, leading to Brozovic’s attempt from the spot, but his penalty was low and weak, and Eintracht goalkeeper Kevin Trapp dove to reach it for the save. In the 59th minute, Perisic was withdrawn after an injury, replaced by Antonio Candreva. Perisic has been a critical player for Inter this season, playing 2,511 minutes out of a possible 3,240 across all competitions.

Inter was lucky to escape with the draw, as Frankfurt had a goal disallowed in the 50th minute for an interfering player standing in an offside position, while defender Martin Hinteregger missed a wide open header in the 69th minute. Samir Handanovic was required in the 89th minute as he made a fingertip save on a shot by Luka Jovic.

Napoli blitzed FC Salzburg with two goals inside the opening 20 minutes and cruised to a 3-0 win. Arkadiusz Milik found himself free on goal after a beautiful feed from Dries Mertens for the opener just 10 minutes in, while Fabian Ruiz volleyed in Napoli’s second eight minutes later. The Italians found a third just before the hour mark, with Mario Rui’s deep cross headed into his own net by Jerome Onguene.

Valencia grabbed two early goals at home on a brace by Spanish international Rodrigo, but Russian side Krasnodar picked up an important away goal in a 2-1 finish. Rodrigo’s first was a wonderful curler unleashed at the top of the box and finishing in the top-left corner of the net in the 12th minute. He doubled Valencia’s lead in the 24th minute with a powerful low finish on a cross from Toni Lato. The visitors picked up the important consolation just past the hour mark as Viktor Claesson beat Cristiano Piccini to a long ball and muscled the Valencia defender off the ball for a fastbreak finish.

Dinamo Zagreb topped Benfica in Croatia 1-0 on a penalty by Bruno Petkovic in the 38th minute. Benfica held 65% of possession but managed just two shots on target and conceded the penalty when Ruben Dias barged over Dani Olmo in the penalty area.

Sevilla drew 2-2 at home with Slavia Prague with all four goals scored in a wild first half. Wissam Ben Yedder scored in the opening minute of the match, threaded through after a turnover in midfield to put Sevilla 1-0 up after just 24 seconds. The visitors drew back level in the 25th minute, but Munir El Haddadi put Sevilla back up just three minutes later, volleying home a corner with power. Alex Kral levelled things up again in the 39th minute on a hilarious goal that saw the ball ping off his neck unintentionally, looping into the top corner.

That was all for the scoring, as Sevilla pushed for a winner with nine total shots including four on target, while holding Slavia Prague to no shots on target in the second half. The final result is a win for Slavia Prague who heads home with a pair of away goals.

Villareal went into halftime level with Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 and came away with a 3-1 win after second-half goals from Gerard Moreno and Manuel Morlanes. Moreno headed home Pablo Fornals’ cross in the 64th minute to give Villareal the lead, while Morlanes blasted his low effort through traffic in the 71st minute to seal the win. Sardar Azmoun and Vicente Iborra had cancelled each other out in the first half.