No shockers today, but for Liverpool fans, it was good to see the Reds confidently take care of business.
Liverpool spanked already relegated Huddersfield Town 5-0 at Anfield. The game was over after 15 seconds when a careless turnover by Huddersfield led to a quick Naby Keita goal [insert Shane Long rolling his eyes and saying, “hold my Guinness.”]
The goal was the fastest ever in Liverpool’s club history. The win moves Liverpool back atop the table, two points ahead of Manchester City who travel to Burnley on Sunday.
Before whipping through the player ratings though it’s worth asking–do Liverpool have a better shot at staying atop the table then oddsmakers and experts are giving them?
A look at Transfermarkt’s recent form table shows that after Liverpool and City, two of the other top five teams in form are…Burnley and Leicester.
Burnley is at home. Should they really be +1600 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ? Is Leicester really a 20-to-1 shot to win or 8-to-1 to draw? Don’t be surprised if Liverpool finds themselves permanently atop the table within the next week. It’s not out of the question.
Also of note, with Mo Salah and Sadio Mane both netting braces, they move into #1 & #2 in the Golden Boot race. Salah has 21, Mane has 20, Aguero and Aubameyang have 19. What an off year for Salah. Terrible.
On to the rankings…
Jurgen Klopp (9) – Good rotating, giving Firmino a rest before the UEFA Champions League seminfinals. He also likely tipped his hand that he plans to start James Milner at Camp Nou by giving the old-timer a breather. Klopp found time to give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a very welcome return to the pitch. Xherdan Shaqiri and Joe Gomez also got time. Klopp continues to have his squad peaking at the right moment.
Alisson (8) – Made one good save on a Juninho Bacuna shot but otherwise saw no other shots on target. Gets an 8 for logging his Premier League leading 20th clean sheet.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (8) – Continues his fine form, with his perfect lob pass to Salah logging another assist for the 20 year-old. He now has 9 for the season.
Virgil van Dijk (7) – Not really given much of a challenge, which is fine considering he’ll have plenty to do come Wednesday.
Dejan Lovren (7) – Lovren gets plenty of grief, but he’s more than capable of holding his own against Huddersfield.
Andy Robertson (8.5) – Guess who’s back? Back again. Robbo’s back. Tell a friend. Booming up the flank and firing crosses, Robbo recorded two assists, giving him 11 for the season. The only people with more this Premier League campaign are Eden Hazard, Ryan Fraser, and Christian Eriksen. Robertson is a left-back btw.
Naby Keita (9) – You score the fastest goal in Liverpool history and play an overall solid match offensively and defensively, you’re getting a 9. That’s three goals in April after exactly zero from August – March.
Jordan Henderson (8) – Assisted Mane’s second header goal and continued his creative passing form.
Georginio Wijnaldum (6.5) – Was fine. Others out-shined him. Subbed for Shaqiri in the 73rd.
Daniel Sturridge (5) – Provided a reminder as to why he doesn’t start, although was more of a threat in the second half. Subbed in the 73rd for Ox.
Sadio Mane (8) – Two headed goals gives Mane 20 for the season. His heading is underrated. Or improved. Whatever the case, he’s good at them. Almost got a hat trick of headers off a Shaqiri cross but his the post.
Mohamed Salah (9) – Recorded his 20th and 21st goals, leading the Premier League again. Also recorded the fastest assist in Liverpool history for the Keita goal. Just a terrible season, really.
Xherdan Shaqiri (7) – Whatever the eff is keeping him from getting more regular run, he looked good today. Almost scored.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (7) – OX! OX! OX! ALMOST scored off a Salah pass. Would’ve been an incredible way to say “hello” again to Anfield. Looked good.
Joe Gomez (NR) – Still getting eased back in with late game substitutions.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Should go to Salah but when you score the fastest goal in Liverpool history and play an overall solid 90 minutes, you earn MoM honors. Congrats to Keita.
We’re taking a different approach for the 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinals combined starting XI this go around.
Today, we examine the Tottenham vs. Ajax combined XI. Check out our combined XI for Barcelona-Liverpool here.
We mostly were in agreement on this group, which required substantially less back-and-forth than the other semifinal.
Tottenham– Ajax Champions League Odds and Probabilities
Just like with the Barcelona-Liverpool semifinal pairing, oddsmakers and analytics don’t line up on this match-up.
Although not to the same degree as with Barcelona in the other half of the bracket, Tottenham are seen as the favorite to advance on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ. They are +380 on UCL futures on
FanDuel Sportsbook NJ to Ajax’s +410.
However their individual match odds interestingly don’t reflect that favored status. Leg 1 is listed first. Leg 2 at Ajax underneath. The odds show Ajax as a heavy home favorite and more likely to draw or upset Spurs on the road.
|Tottenham +130||Draw +230||Ajax +210|
|Ajax +110||Draw +240||Tottenham +250|
Over on FiveThirtyEight, like with Barcelona-Liverpool, the match-up is essentially a coin-flip.
Tottenham – Ajax Combined Starting XI
We went with a change in formation to a 3-4-3 instead of the standard 4-3-3 we’ve been using. Why? In part because it accommodates the talent better. But it also is a FUN AF line-up that would be an absolute joy to watch against any squad in the world.
Seriously, how fun would that XI be to watch?
Chops: If you asked me which goalie I’d rather have over the next 3-4 years, I’d go with the 23 year-old André Onana. But a goalie for the semifinals of the 2019 Champions League? I’m going with Lloris by a hair. He’s got a high save percentage in the UCL and has been an underrated performer for Tottenham in the Premier League, where he has 11 clean sheets in this season’s best overall domestic league (including two Man of the Matches). The difference is razor-thin, but Lloris has been tested against bigger competition more frequently this season which gives him the edge.
Everett: I’ve been impressed with Onana, who did not make a ton of saves against Juventus in the UCL quarters — the Italians tallied just four shots on goal over the two games — but stood tall when he had to. He was not one of the first names mentioned as his team knocked off Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. But he should have gotten more love than he did after allowing the Serie A champs to score just twice over 180 minutes, with no second-half goals in either game. His quarterfinal performance followed a solid effort in leg 2 of the round of 16 against Real Madrid, when he did not allow Los Blancos on the board until the 70th minute, when his team was up 3-0.
FWIW, WhoScored has rated Lloris 6.9 in the EPL and 6.71 in the UCL, compared to Onana’s 6.84 (Eredivisie) and 6.76 (UCL).
Chops: All of Tyler’s points are valid here. Flip a coin.
Everett: It landed on the Lloris side.
Chops: On to the backline, which is unsurprisingly Ajax-heavy.
Everett: Matthijs de Ligt is world-class. This is more evident than ever in the wake of what he did against Juve, when his game-winner off a corner in leg 2 wrapped up a memorable performance.
He has to be joined by Nicolás Tagliafico as the other center back. A scary thought for Spurs fans: Ajax stifled Juventus, on the road, without arguably its second-best defender in Tagliafico, who missed leg 2 of the quarters due to a suspension. In addition to his defensive work, Tagliafico has scored three goals in eight UCL appearances this year. We made it an all-Ajax back line, with Noussair Mazraoui completing the trio.
Everett: Choosing this midfield required less discussion than any other position group in either semifinal XI. De Jong, like de Ligt, needs no explanation. It was also easy to pick Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, which account for most of Spurs’ star power with Harry Kane on the shelf.
Chops: I’m a heavy Premier League watcher and I want Liverpool to buy Eriksen and Alli (to be fair, I want them to buy everyone good on any other team, earlier this season I was trying to make a case for buying Richarlison, soooo…). But there’s a reason why Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester United are coming hard after Eriksen. He’s a great assist man, tallying 12 so far in the Premier League this season. But he can come up huge when his team needs him to find the net, like he did with Brighton this week.
Dele Alli is sometimes overlooked as one of the top young players in England, but there’s a reason why he’s one of the top six valued midfielders in the Premier League. At 23, Alli actually feels more like an Ajax player than a Spurs one. A silent assassin, he’s so confident on ball, willing to take chances, create opportunities. Liverpool should buy him.
Everett: Up top, Son Heung-min and Dusan Tadic represent two more easy choices. We all saw the work Son did in both legs against Manchester City, carrying the load after Kane’s injury. Spurs are not here without their Korean star, which makes his unavailability for leg 1 due to suspension a major problem.
Tadic is not yet a huge name, but for long stretches of Ajax’s last four games, he’s been arguably the best — and certainly the flashiest/most entertaining — player on the pitch. He was spectacular in leg 2 of the round of 16 as his team ransacked RM. While he was not quite at that highlight-reel level against Juve, he was still impressive. The numbers back up the notion that he’s been among the best players in the UCL, as he has totaled a ridiculous 30 goals to go with 15 assists in Champions League and Eredivisie play this year.
Chops: I actually debated the inclusion of Son since he’s only playing the Leg 2 game, but as criminally underrated as Son has been this year, it would only underrate him more feloniously to leave him out. He’s in an elite group of goal scorers who don’t require teammates creating “big chances” for him — he creates them himself (2:50 mark).
Tadic and Ziyech are not the names of the aliens from the Simpsons, but two of the three top-rated offensive players in the Eredivisie this year. Tadic, who at 30 could be the father to half of Ajax’s team, has been the more productive goal scorer of the two, but Ziyech creates chances. He’s generating an absurd 5.3 shots on goal per game in the UCL (and 5.4 in the Eredivisie). If Harry Kane were healthy, he’d surely get one of the forward spots — but not until after some legit debate on whether it would be Tadic or Ziyech getting left off.
Everett: One place where I’ll give Tottenham the advantage is on the bench, where Mauricio Pochettino deserves all the credit in the world. His team just knocked off what looked like the best squad in the world (please forgive me for saying that, Chops!). And that was while missing Kane down the stretch of leg 1 and without him at all in the second leg. At this point, it’s well-documented that Spurs are in the midst of an incredible run despite no offseason signings last summer, but it’s hard to say enough about the job Pochettino’s done, especially in the round of 16.
“I think he’s been our best player over the past few games.”
That was New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson evaluating his 18 year-old teammate James Sands Wednesday night in front of his Yankee Stadium locker.
NYCFC had just shut out the Chicago Fire 1-0 in a game that saw Sands shift positions in the second half from the center of a three back to his old and more familiar position in front of that backline.
At his post-game press conference, High Press Soccer asked Dome Torrent about his decision to deploy Sands at the heart of his defense. “We had problems,” Torrent explained, “and I say many times, James has this great quality, he can play center back, he can play holding midfielder.”
Torrent noted that he moved Sands up the pitch, “in the last 20 minutes because we had many balls between the lines (and) he can walk in as a holding midfielder.”
Confidence soaring in Sands
The level of confidence that his NYC coach has shown in his 18 year-old Homegrown talent, both versus the Fire and in general in 2019, is somewhat astounding when we consider that the Rye, New York native played just 223 minutes last year, having made just a 23 minute cameo in 2017.
When Sands started New York’s first match of the campaign, a 2-2 draw in Orlando, it was easy to presume that Sands was a placeholder for Keaton Parks, a 21 year-old American midfielder who came in on a high profile loan from Portugueses giants Benfica having already earned one full national team cap.
19 year-old Juan Pablo Torres had also arrived from Europe in the off season on a transfer from Belgian side Lokern and he had been a major contributor to the U.S. U20 side that won the 2018 CONCACAF Championship on the way to the age group World Cup. Torres tallied four goals and three assists for Tab Ramos’ group, a group that did not include Sands.
Eight games in Torres has yet to make his MLS debut and Torrent has seen fit to play Parks a total of 14 minutes to date.
Sands opened the season alongside captain Alex Ring in a defensive midfield role, often dropping back between the center-backs Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens. Torrent must have liked what he saw because he eventually formalized the situation, lining Sands up in the center of a three back set in Minnesota.
With Callens out, Torrent turned to Tony Rocha. It didn’t work out but NYC emerged with a point in a 3-3 match. Sands fared well in the goalfest and the system improved considerably when Callens came back from injury in a 2-0 victory at DC United.
“He basically did it all for us,” Johnson said, describing Sands’ position switch versus Chicago. But what the former Fire keeper admires most about his young teammate is his attitude. “I think the best part about him is his humility, his willingness to just put his head down every single day and continue to look to get better. You know, he’s not a loud kid but he’s got this quiet confidence about him.”
That quiet confidence was in evidence in the post-game locker room when High Press wondered if it was difficult to make that change mid-game. “Not really,” Sands began, “because I started the first four or five games at the six. So I’m used to playing both at this level.” Did Torrent send any instructions from the sideline?
“He just tells us to switch the formation, and I know the sets coming in.” It doesn’t hurt, I proposed, having a pair of veterans such as Chanot and Callens on his flanks.
“Yeah, for sure,” Sands agrees. “They’re always talking to me and helping me out and they’re helping me with everything and I’m learning to try and help them better.”
Although Sands was a regular at center back for the U.S. in the 2017 U17 World Cup side that fell to eventual champions, England, the NYC man has not been a part of the U20 team that is preparing for the U20 World Cup that begins in late May in Poland.
With injuries and inactivity a concern for a number of potential central defenders Sands would seem too good to pass up, especially given his strong play in a position of need for Tab Ramos’ team.
2022 World Cup in Sands’ vision
Naturally enough, High Press Soccer asked if the World Cup is a goal. “Yeah, it’s in the back of my mind,” Sands conceded, “but I haven’t really been part of that group.” “I’m trying to make a strong case for it,” Sands said, “but it’s not my decision.”
The quiet confidence and humility that his goalkeeper noted came through as Sands closed by saying, “I’ll just put my head down and work, I mean, I can just do as best as I can here and hopefully somebody notices.”
Latest High Press Pod is live for streaming and download.
At 7 minutes, contributing writer Harrison Hamm joins to discuss the Luciano Acosta transfer rumors.
Finally at 20:30 contributing writer Peter Nolan joins to cover a host of topics, ranging from MLS expansion to 30 teams, MLS club training compensation, Chris Armas – Thierry Henry coaching rumors, the Kaku suspension and general New York Red Bulls and NYCFC updates.
Audio comes in a little hot the first six minutes and smooths out after that.Listen to “High Press Pod Episode 3 (04/25/19)” on Spreaker.