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Klopp hails Real Madrid; plots upset in UCL final

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Jurgen Klopp has placed all of the pressure on Real Madrid ahead of the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine on Saturday.

[ MORE: UCL final projected XI’s ]

The Liverpool manager spoke to the media on Friday ahead of the showpiece final and revealed his admiration for Zinedine Zidane and his superstars, with Real hoping to win a third-straight UCL trophy and a record 13th European title.

Liverpool (five-time winners themselves) are the slight underdogs but the way Klopp was talking suggested this final was a proper David vs. Goliath battle.

It seems as though the pressure is off his players, as Klopp (who has lost all five of his major finals as a manager) believes the experience of Real is key but still thinks his players are quite capable of causing an upset.

“Experience is very important. I am pretty sure in the second before the game Real Madrid will be more confident than we are but the game doesn’t end in that second, it only starts. When you see Real Madrid play you say ‘wow they are really strong’ but they never played us,” Klopp said. “But we are here because we are Liverpool. We are not only a really good football team. This club has it in its DNA that it can really go for the big things.

“Nobody expected us to be here, but we are here. Because we are Liverpool. Because we have the games we had in the Champions League, the most exceptional run to the final, the most goals, I cannot believe that it is true… but it’s us. We scored the most goals, we had exceptional results away and at home, all of that stuff. The experience they have is a big advantage. 100 percent. To feel confident, or whatever, but in the game experience doesn’t help all the time.”

Wow. Okay.

Klopp is clearly trying to take the pressure off his players and the fact that he also lavished praise on Zidane ahead of the final shows how much respect Liverpool have for the team who have won the most European titles in history.

But are the Reds going too far here? Klopp added the following as he continued with the underdog theme.

“We have to make it as difficult as possible for them. That’s the plan of course,” Klopp said. “We cannot try to fight on their level but tactics in football are there to bring a better opponent on your level. When they are on your level you can beat them. That’s hard to do, but I think it’s worth a try.”

This just seems like Liverpool are giving Real a little too much respect ahead of the game. After all, no team has scored more goals than Liverpool in the UCL this season plus they have the hottest player in the world in Mohamed Salah on their side.

It’s tough to question Klopp given what he has achieved in the UCL this season but he does seem to have gone a little over the top here as he portrayed his Liverpool side as massive underdogs in the final.

Championship Sunday, rounded up

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The Premier League put a bow on its remarkable season with a 100-point flourish from Man City, and a new single-season scoring mark.

[ MORE: Full match replays | Final table | Final grades ]

It also waved goodbye to Arsene Wenger, at least at Arsenal. All that and more in the PL roundup.

Southampton 0-1 Manchester CityRECAP

Gabriel Jesus‘ stoppage time winner — man, does this club play to the final season’s whistle — made sure Man City added “first 100-point club” to its list of amazing accomplishments.

Liverpool 4-0 Brighton and Hove Albion — RECAP

Mohamed Salah set the new Premier League scoring record, while Dejan Lovren, Andy Robertson, and Dominic Solanke also scored to lead Liverpool back into the UEFA Champions League regardless of the final against Real Madrid.

Huddersfield Town 0-1 Arsenal — RECAP

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became the fastest Gunner to 10 Premier League goals and notably has status as the last player to score in Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal.

Newcastle United 3-0 Chelsea — RECAP

Newcastle fans are dreaming of the transfer market after Rafa Benitez put another fine line on his resume with a demolition of the Blues. Ayoze Perez scored twice and Jonjo Shelvey also scored to clinch a Top Ten finish for the Magpies, who were in a relegation battle deep into the season. Chelsea is off to the Europa League, and in poor form ahead of next week’s FA Cup Final against Manchester United.

Swansea City 1-2 Stoke City — RECAP

Spirit remains at Stoke despite its relegation, as it dragged Swansea down with it. An early goal for Andy King was long forgotten after Badou Ndiaye and Peter Crouch gave the traveling Potters support a win in their final Premier League match for at least 15 months.

Tottenham Hotspur 5-4 Leicester City — RECAP

Don’t tell these clubs they had nothing to play for…

Harry Kane became the second Premier League player to score 30 goals this season, as Spurs trailed 1-0 and 3-1. They also were level at 4 following Jamie Vardy‘s second of the night when Kane completed his brace.

What a way to end a season.

West Ham United 3-1 Everton — RECAP

David Moyes‘ Irons hammered his former club, in doing so embarrassing former West Ham boss Sam Allardyce. The Toffees spent big this season and hired Big Sam to fix their season and lead them back into European contention. He largely failed. As for Moyes, has he reclaimed his Premier League mojo?

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth — RECAP

Chris Wood‘s early goal was canceled out by Joshua King, then substitute Callum Wilson claimed all three points for the Cherries in this match-up of two of the finest British managers in the game.

Crystal Palace 2-0 West Bromwich Albion  — RECAP

Wilfried Zaha and Patrick Van Aanholt ended Roy Hodgson‘s Manager of the Year campaign with another win, as left-for-dead Palace finishes 11th despite an 0-7 goalless start!

Manchester United 1-0 Watford  — RECAP

Marcus Rashford scores the lone goal on a play began by Michael Carrick and helped along by Juan Mata. That’s why Mourinho plays Lukaku so much (#jab).

Klopp praises Salah as a role model “full stop” in FWA speech

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Jurgen Klopp couldn’t attend the Football Writer’s Association awards ceremony to congratulate Mo Salah on his Player of the Year award in person, so he wrote a speech instead.

A brilliant, remarkable speech.

Klopp, known for his eccentric character and wonderful eloquence even when not speaking in his native German, put together a stunning dictation that speaks not just to Salah’s play on the pitch, but more importantly to his manager, the Egyptian’s character off it. Klopp made note to highlight not just the prominence that Salah is bringing to minority races and religions, but also the grace and brilliance he provides the Premier League regardless of his denominators.

“There’s not much I can say about what he does ‘on the pitch’ that you guys haven’t already seen and written about,” Klopp wrote, and had read out by someone attending the ceremony. “The fact you have voted for him as your player of the season reflects that you have witnessed his incredible quality as a footballer. But it’s his qualities as a person that should not be overlooked. I read and hear about him being a wonderful role model for Egypt, North Africa, for the wider Arabic world and for Muslims. This, of course, is true, but he is a role model full stop.”

Klopp’s comments – almost surely unintentionally – mirror those released earlier in the day by NBA star Pau Gasol on Spurs female assistant coach Becky Hammon, who is notably interviewing for a head coaching position. Gasol made sure to point out that Hammon is not just a champion of women’s prominence in the sport, but that she’s a high quality coach in general, regardless of her gender.

[ READ: Here is the full speech written by Jurgen Klopp and read at the PWA ceremony ]

The Reds boss then went on to highlight 17-year-old Liverpool academy product Rhian Brewster for his work earlier in the year bringing racism to the front page. He also threw some humor at his ability to pick a “second” favorite team for the 2018 World Cup in Russia behind his native Germany, but used that to wish England boss Gareth Southgate luck at the event.

Klopp: Result bad, performance good; UCL run taking its toll

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Three paths remain for Liverpool to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League: they can either 1) beat Brighton & Hove Albion on the final day of the Premier League season, or 2) beat Real Madrid in this season’s UCL final on May 26, or 3) hope that Chelsea drop three points across their final two PL games.

[ MORE: Wenger speaks, bids farewell to Emirates after final home game ]

Option no. 1 is, with all due respect to Brighton, easier and with a much higher probability than no. 2, and still marginally more so than no. 3. The old cliche, “It’s a cup final,” immediately comes to mind. Thanks to a 15-goal advantage in the goal-differential column (+42 to +27), even two Chelsea wins would prove futile should the Reds win next Sunday at Anfield to secure a top-four finish.

[ MORE: Guardiola jovial after Man City lift PL trophy ]

Following Sunday’s 1-0 defeat away to those very Blues, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp lamented the result while insisting the performance was perfectly acceptable in his eyes. His side’s run to the Champions League final has undoubtedly taken a lot of his relatively small squad, thus Liverpool are winless in their last three league games (two draws, one loss) — quotes from the BBC:

“I hate the result but the performance was good enough to get a good point. It’s clear against Chelsea you have to avoid crosses, but the cross came in and it’s difficult against (Olivier) Giroud, and that’s the goal.

“Chelsea were strong but we did well and had a few good moments. But we weren’t clinical enough. The performance was okay but the result was exactly the opposite of what we wanted.”

“We don’t have a big squad and we had injury problems, so when the boys that come back don’t have rhythm. We have 11 or 12 players that have been playing constantly, so, now we have one full week and that helps massively.”

“The obvious [cup final] is so far away we don’t think about it and [Brighton] is a very important game for us, but we’ve had a few of them in the past and they haven’t been too bad.”

VIDEO: Previewing “Inside The Minds” of Klopp, De Bruyne

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Men in Blazers’ personality Roger Bennett is sitting down with two of the more colorful minds in football, one known for his wizardry with the ball and the other with a tactics board.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp‘s “Inside the Mind” interview aired two seasons ago, and Vol. II is coming this weekend, one half-hour before Man City’s maestro Kevin De Bruyne gets the Rog treatment.

The second installment of “Inside the Mind of Jurgen Klopp” debuts Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

[ STREAM LIVE SUNDAY: “Inside KDB” | “Inside Klopp” ]

“Inside the Mind of Kevin De Bruyne” hits the airwaves Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.