Roberto Firmino

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Three key battles in the Champions League Final

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There are only two differences in the Liverpool lineups that beat Spurs 2-1 home and away this season.

Naby Keita and Joe Gomez started the September tilt at Wembley Stadium, while Jordan Henderson and Joel Matip started at Anfield.

[ MORE: Champions League story lines ]

Spurs on the other hand played a back four at Wembley with three center backs in the reverse fixture, wing backs Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier pushed up high and wide.

Might we see the latter again in Madrid? One of those pieces begins this examination of the three (plus one) factors in Saturday’s Champions League Final.

Kieran Trippier versus Sadio Mane

Mane scored 22 goals this season, but failed to manage one against Spurs whether Trippier was lined up at right back or as more of a right wing back.

All-in-all, the dangerous-crossing Trippier is a better defender than his reputation suggests, but Mane is about as explosive an attacking talent as there is in England.

This battle may be the one that settles the tie.

Roberto Firmino versus Toby Alderweireld

Sure, this also could read Firmino v. Spurs’ defense, but “Bobby’s” two goals against Spurs this season were his first in six matches against the Reds.

Like Harry Kane for Spurs, Firmino is coming off an injury. While still quite good, the Brazilian center forward’s production and effectiveness have both dipped this season.

Perhaps it’s absurd to expect him to be a wrecking ball in consecutive Champions League seasons, but his dip in that competition was especially significant. Firmino arguably was the number one reason Liverpool ran through its forgiving slate last season, scoring 10 goals with 7 assists and drawing a penalty. This year, it’s just four goals with a helper.

Alderweireld, meanwhile, has been fine but not spectacular for Spurs. The big Belgian will hope Firmino is less than 100 percent.

Jurgen Klopp versus himself

There are few men in the world with the self-confidence of Jurgen Klopp, but the Reds’ boss enters his latest final holding the proverbial clipboard for the unabashed favorites.

When a man has lost his last three European finals, there’s reason to question how he may try to out-fox himself in the role of favorite. It’s also worth noting that the virtue of getting to a fourth European final says a lot about a managerial skill set.

Where Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is very much playing with house money, Klopp has yet to lift a piece of silverware as Liverpool boss. Perception of him is unlikely to change too much with a loss, but a win would have him an Anfield all-timer.

The stage can do wild things to a man, even when that man has spent plenty of time on that stage.

BONUS: Harry Kane versus his ankle

Yeah, this is cheating, but the Englishman’s fitness is the X-factor of the UCL Final. Virgil Van Dijk has the goods to deal with a fully fit Kane, but if he’s simply tasked with managing a half-ready decoy? Well, that’s big stuff.

Still, Kane’s 1-4-4 record against Spurs doesn’t have a ton to do with his scoring record, as he’s managed five goals and two assists in those matches. If he’s ready to go, Spurs obviously have a much better chance at glory.

Salah, Firmino ruled out due to injury

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Liverpool’s task against Barcelona just got even tougher.

Trailing 3-0 from the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal at the Nou Camp, Jurgen Klopp will now be without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the second leg at Anfield on Tuesday.

Salah suffered a heavy blow to the head which led to a concussion in the 3-2 win at Newcastle on Saturday, while Firmino suffered a reaction to a recent groin/thigh injury after coming on late against Barca last week.

“Two of the world’s best strikers are not available tomorrow night and we have to score four goals,” said Klopp. “It doesn’t make life easier but as long as we will try for 90 minutes to celebrate the Champions League campaign to give it a proper finish. That’s the plan. If we can do it, wonderful. If we can’t do it, let’s fail in the most beautiful way.”

Overhauling a 3-0 deficit is a long shot, especially without two key strikers, as Sadio Mane is set to be joined up top by two from Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge or Xherdan Shaqiri. Origi, Shaqiri and Sturridge have all had their moments this season, but replacing Salah and Firmino is almost impossible.

The big question remains if either Salah or Firmino will be fit for the final day of the season on Sunday, as Liverpool host Wolves knowing a win could seal their first league title in 29 years.

Klopp revealed Salah could be fit for the season finale, as his concussion could be over in the next few days, but there is no chance he will be risked to play against Barcelona.

“It’s not good enough from a medical point of view,” Klopp said about Salah. “He is desperate to play but we cannot do it. It’s a concussion. That means he would not even be allowed to play.”

Klopp says Firmino’s chance of playing against Barcelona ‘looks good’

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Jurgen Klopp is hoping that vital striker Roberto Firmino is ready to go tomorrow against Barcelona in a massive Champions League semifinal battle, and while the prospects are positive, the Brazilian is firmly a game-time decision.

According to the Liverpool boss, Firmino’s chances of playing “look good” but he’s not ready to commit to the injured striker’s presence on the field.

“We all knew from the beginning it would be a race,” Klopp said on Tuesday in his pre-match press conference. “We don’t have to make a decision today because there’s no game today, we can wait. It looked good so far but until tomorrow I have to make that decision – after lunchtime tomorrow. That’s what I will do.”

Firmino is dealing with a torn groin muscle suffered in training just last week, and it kept him off the field for the massive 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town last time out. However, with such an important game on the docket, the Brazilian could make his way into the lineup.

“Bobby trained yesterday and was completely normal, it was not high intensity, we had to work on set pieces and a couple of things,” Klopp said. “Apart from the word ‘tear’ everything else is positive, but it’s Bobby so he might be ready for Wednesday but we don’t know obviously at the moment, but because it’s him, it’s more likely than not.”

Klopp also confirmed that Fabinho is available for selection after missing the Huddersfield Town match after a blow to the head, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also a possibility after making his year-long comeback complete with a substitute appearance against the Terriers.

“This is now the most intense period of a long, long season because we now have three games in six days and we need to think about different things,” Klopp said of the injury situation. “Of course with the opponents we have it’s difficult. But the boys are all in good shape so we will use as many as possible.”

Liverpool has the first leg against Barcelona on Wednesday, followed by a Premier League duel with Newcastle on the weekend. Next week is the second leg against the Spanish side at Anfield, followed by the final Premier League match of the season against Wolves. A potential Champions League final would take place on June 1.

Klopp says Firmino should be fit for Barcelona

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool supporters shouldn’t worry too much about Roberto Firmino‘s absence from the Reds lineup for Friday’s 5-0 defeat of Huddersfield Town at Anfield.

Firmino missed the match but Klopp says the center forward is very much in the mix to play against Barcelona next week in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 5-0 Huddersfield Town ]

“Do not believe three percent of what is on social media,” Klopp said. “Roberto Firmino is not out for the rest of the season. After training he felt it a little bit and this morning he still felt it. It’s a small tear but it’s Bobby so I would say it is likely he is fit for Barcelona because he is a machine. It’s good we showed we can play without him.”

A good center forward sure would be useful against Barcelona, a team who is very difficult to beat over 90 minutes let alone two legs.

Klopp certainly wouldn’t want to admit it if Firmino was going to miss the match, but he also seems the type who is unlikely to suppress something that big.

Efficient Liverpool punishes Porto (video)

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  • Keita scores deflected opener
  • Firmino makes it 2-0 before half
  • Alisson strong in goal

Liverpool went a long way toward clinching a second-successive spot in the UEFA Champions League, defeating Porto 2-0 at Anfield on Tuesday in a quarterfinal first leg.

Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino scored the goals, with the second leg on tap for April 17 at the Estadio Do Dragao.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Porto will feel aggrieved to see a defender error put them behind after five minutes, as Naby Keita’s rip deflected wildly to fool Iker Casillas.

Casillas soon had to make a comfortable save on Mohamed Salah, as the Reds were clearly on top.

The Reds made it 2-0 through Firmino, who just had to tap home in-tight from a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Jordan Henderson found Sadio Mane for a goal early in the second half, but the Senegalese man was ruled offside after VAR review.

Alisson Becker had himself a day in between the sticks for Liverpool, and thwarted a pretty dangerous Moussa Marega on multiple occasions.