The 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinals are set.
One half of the bracket features the most complete player in the world vs the most complete team in the world.
The other half showcases a young team on the rise taking their one shot at glory before their best players are sold off to global behemoths playing against a team that literally never buys anyone and no one expected to make it this far.
- Chops (3 out of 4) — Would’ve had 4 of 4 but wimped out with a “Heart says Ajax, mind says Juventus” call. Accurately described the Tottenham win as something they’d “white-knuckle” at the Etihad after winning the home game.
- Tyler Everett (3 out of 4) — Waffled on the Tottenham upset. Finally stood his ground and picked Ajax. Right call.
- Katya Gokhman (2 out of 4) — Picked Manchester United in an upset (KATYA!!!) and went with CR7 carrying Juve through.
- Carl Cort (2 out of 4) — Wanted to get there, but just couldn’t get there with Ajax either. And couldn’t fortune-tell VAR carrying Tottenham through to the semis.
On with the predictions!
|Barcelona vs Liverpool||Not to state the obvious, but this match-up almost entirely comes down to two things: 1) Can Liverpool leave Camp Nou in Leg 1 even or only down by a goal, and 2) Can Klopp come up with a plan to stop Messi? |
Liverpool are easily the most battle-tested team remaining. Just to get here they survived a “Group of Death” that included PSG and Napoli. They handled Bayern Munich. They’re in a Premier League title race for the ages. They’re peaking at the right time. I’m going with Liverpool.
|I’m going with Barcelona in this one. They are not quite as proven and battle-tested as Liverpool this year, but I think they’ll find a way. The fact the Catalans’ best players can focus all their energy on the UCL, as La Liga is decided, is huge. Liverpool, on the other hand, is under a ton of pressure both domestically and in Europe, and the burden on the Reds and/or Messi is going to be too much for them.||Although we have talked about Barcelona and Messi having a fantastic season, we tend to overlook the fact that, maybe, La Liga isn’t what it used to be. And, maybe, Manchester United made Barcelona look better than they really are. |
Liverpool seem to have found their “groove” and Klopp seems to be on a roll. Just like Chops mentioned, they’ve been tested over and over again and have gone through the rings of fire; I can’t say the same about Barcelona. I’m going with Liverpool – let’s give the lads another chance at glory.
|When you look at this match up it’s really hard to look past Messi, Suarez, Camp Nou and that dynamic firepower. But I think Liverpool are more equipped all round and can give Barcelona just as many problems as Barca will give them at the back. It’s going to be a fantastic game of football ending with Liverpool getting a another chance to redeem themselves in the CL final.|
|Tottenham vs Ajax||First and foremost, Ajax absolutely deserve to be here. They’ve been criminally undervalued by oddsmakers and experts (me included) during this journey. They’re no Cinderella team. They’re legit.|
Second and actually more foremost–SPURS BEAT CITY! TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR BEAT MANCHESTER FREAKING CITY. 😂😂😂😂
Where was I? Oh yeah, Spurs. Tottenham don’t get the respect they deserve either, playing second fiddle this year to the Man City and Liverpool rocket ship.
|Tottenham’s win over Man City was incredible, in so many ways. Unfortunately for Spurs, though, it took a toll. They’re going to miss Son in the first leg and Kane in both, and Ajax’s run will continue. The Dutch club seemingly gets more and more comfortable as the stakes are raised. The best story of the tournament will not be over until June 1 at Wanda Metropolitano.||One word – wow. What a turn of events. I’m 0 for 2 with these teams and I’m ashamed to say it. They have both proven themselves – especially Ajax who showed us that beating Real Madrid in the last stage and tying Juventus at home were no fluke. |
With Spurs, I have to give it to the coach and players (especially Son) for tactically outplaying the mastermind Pep.
With all this being said, I’m going to go with my heart instead of my brain (this has proven to fail me in the past but oh well) and go with Ajax for the win. The boys are on a roll and I have a gut feeling that there’s more coming.
|I’m very surprised that I’m even mentioning Tottenham at this stage of the CL. |
Now they are up against an Ajax team who have shocked the football world with their dynamic and attractive way of play. I believe the momentum Ajax have created is just too strong and they’ll see their way past Spurs to meet Liverpool in the final.
Our predictions team consist of former Russian national team member Katya Gokhman. Joining her are site-runner Chops, contributing writer and La Liga expert Tyler Everett, and former Premier League striker Carl Cort. After a stint in the US with the NASL, Carl now conducts Las Vegas private soccer training and clinics.
The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) announced their Premier League Team of the Year last week and Player of the Year on Sunday.
No surprises on the Player of the Year: Liverpool center-back Virgil van Dijk won the award. He was the odds-on favorite to do so for over a month. VVD became the first defensive player to win the honor since the 2004-05 season when Chelsea‘s John Terry was recognized as England’s best footballer.
Underscoring VVD’s year, here’s a stat: NOT ONE SINGLE PLAYER HAS DRIBBLED PAST HIM IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE THIS CAMPAIGN.
Virgil van Dijk for Liverpool in the Premier League this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 28, 2019
🔴 Most touches (3,262)
🔴 Most passes (2,847)
🔴 Most duels won (228)
🔴 Most clearances (193)
🔴 Most aerial duels won (170)
🔴 Most interceptions (40)
🔴 Most shots blocked (17)
The Shield of Anfield. 🛡 pic.twitter.com/AXqR4oEfI9
While the Player of the Year was absent of any drama, that wasn’t the case for the Team of the Year.
Is there any data, at all, that shows that Paul Pogba was more deserving than Edez Hazard?
By basically every statistic, Eden Hazard is a demonstrably better soccer player than Paul Pogba this year.
Eden Hazard's stats for the 2018/19 Premier League season so far…— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) April 25, 2019
Absolute madness he didn't make the TOTY! 😳 pic.twitter.com/5aFQTCphgz
Let’s just say…Pogba’s stats don’t line up well with the above.
|Dispossessed/ Game||Tackles / Game|
There are very few areas we can find that Pogba out-performed Hazard this year. While Hazard gets a slight knock defensively (he rarely wins tackles, however he’s also dribbled past less often than Pogba, .3 to .8 times per game, respectively), he far outshines Pogba offensively.
Hazard should’ve been on the team of the year.
As should’ve Mo Salah. But that’s another story for another time.
Playing their third game in seven days, NYCFC conceded a first-half goal to Nani, Orlando City’s red hot DP, but still had enough left in the tank to rally for a 1-1 draw on Heber’s 51st-minute strike.
With the home team dominating the early proceedings, Nani capitalized on a weak clearance to net a 19th minute goal. The score ended NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson’s shutout streak at 256 minutes, and marked Nani’s fifth consecutive match with a goal. Cristiano Ronaldo’s ex-running mate celebrated five straight games with goals with backflips.
Heber finds an equalizer
Heber is New York’s less well-known version of Nani- and by less well know, I mean completely unknown. A Brazilian striker, Heber landed in the Bronx from HNK Rijeka in the Croatian First Football League and has been gradually worked into the lineup by Dome Torrent, who indicated pre-game that his new DP would be unlikely to go the full 90 versus Orlando.
But on a pleasant but not overly warm Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, the Brazilian looked spry, no more so than when he pounced on a rebound from a Maxi Morales shot that was saved off of the post by Orlando keeper Brian Rowe after a nice one-two with James Sands set up by Morales.
NYC coach Dome Torrent said of Heber:
“I think with Heber we have the right player, right now.”
Torrent was not interested in talking about why it took so long the get the Brazilian in the fold, although he did mention the restrictive MLS rules, salary cap, etc. No, Torrent preferred to let it be known that “right now I’m very happy with Heber, with Mitty (Mitrita), with the new players.”
And why not? Despite the end of the winning streak, New York is undefeated in five consecutive games and as fullback Ben Sweat put it, “there was a slow start for sure but at the end of the day we’ve only lost one match.”
Sweat, playing for the injured Ronald Matarrita, who has recently gotten the leg up on Sweat in the pair’s ongoing battle to be NYCFC’s first choice left fullback, likes where the team is heading. “I think we’re starting to find a good rhythm and, you know, a good system, and we’re playing good football, and we’re all working hard for each other.”
New York began the season in desperate need of a goal scoring striker to fill, at least partially, the enormous hole left in the lineup by the off-season departure to Japan of the club’s first and best player David Villa.
Alexandru Mitrita signed on shortly before Heber but the Romanian was, as advertised, more of a winger than the number nine that NYCFC was desperately lacking. Knowing his importance to the team Heber was anxious to go as long as he was able versus Orlando, despite Torrent’s pre-game declaration.
Gamely fielding post-game questions in English, Hebert told the assembled media, “I feel very good,” noting of Torrent, “during the game he asked me many times how I was and (I said) I’m very good.” “In this type of the game,” the newcomer added, “all players want to play and I cannot go out (of the game) and I want to be on the pitch to help my teammates.”
Either team could have won this game as easily as lost it, and both sides can point to opportunities squandered and bad fortune in what was at times a very sloppy match. New York’s Alexander Callens was saved by a linesman’s flag when he fell over to allow a brutal Orlando goal that would have made the score 2-0.
New York’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi watched his long-range effort roll slowly past an empty Orlando goal while Orlando sub-Dom Dwyer had the miss of the match when he somehow headed wide from a virtually unmissable position after a great run and cross from the aforementioned Ruan.
Given all of that, neither coach had too many complaints as reflected in their postgame remarks. Orlando supremo James O’Connor, who has his team in a playoff position after a tough 2018, noted that “obviously a very hard-fought game for both teams,” adding, “a draw is probably a fair result.”
For Torrent, whose team sits one spot behind Orlando in seventh place, the result, “is not bad for us because three games in seven days. I was concerned about the heavy legs,” who was pleased with how his players responded to the workload.
How pleased? “The players,” Torrent said, “therefore were amazing.”
The New York Red Bulls welcomed expansion side FC Cincinnati into Red Bull Arena Saturday night with one objective in mind and one objective only: to collect three points.
NYRB accomplished that goal thanks to a brilliant long-range strike by Mr. Red Bull himself, Connor Lade.
Lade leads new line-up
Often overlooked but always ready to do whatever it takes for the team, Lade started Saturday night at left wingback with Red Bulls boss Chris Armas looking to shake up his moribund team.
Armas ran his side out versus the MLS newcomers in a three-back set with Amro Tarek slotting in alongside fellow center-backs Aaron Long and Tim Parker with Lade and Alex Muyl manning the wingback roles.
Armas wanted to see his team break down a Cincinnati side that he expected to come out “in two banks of four” and thought “with our wingbacks, we could unlock it.” Armas noted that Red Bulls sent in a “bunch of crosses which they defended well.”
With his team coming into the match struggling with a record of 1 win, 4 losses, and 2 ties, Armas was looking for “little ways to spark the team, get them excited for a different formation.”
“So, we’d say it worked,” was Armas’ read. “1-0 for a shutout and a really important win.”
Afterward, Lade found himself in the unaccustomed position of being the center of attention, although the popular 29-year-old was quick to deflect back to the team. “Personally, I would say it’s nice to get the goal but I think that’s secondary on the night.”
“Obviously,” the modest Lade continued, “it’s a huge win for the team. We needed that in the worst way and obviously to get a shutout at home I feel like that’s what we are going to take away from tonight.”
With Bradley Wright-Phillips, the team’s all-time leading goal scorer, missing out with a muscle strain, Lade’s moment of magic was badly needed by a Red Bulls team that has struggled to find the net in 2019.
Lade’s 38th-minute goal was a brilliant effort with BWP’s replacement Brian White heading down smartly to Daniel Royer at the top of the Cincinnati box. Royer’s clever backheel was intelligently ignored by Marc Rzatkowski who left the ball for the onrushing Wade to strike past Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton with a powerful and accurate first time left-footed strike.
The goal was only the second regular-season goal of Lade’s career and although it was a great goal and a thrilling moment for the Red Bulls High Press Soccer wondered if Armas was becoming concerned with just how hard a time his team is having scoring goals, even with BWP in the lineup?
Armas asserted that Lade’s position change to wingback from his usual fullback position put Long in a more attacking position, “so it wasn’t so unexpected.”
Armas did concede that “we want to create more chances and we work hard at that every day.” “There is a lot that goes into creating and scoring goals,” Armas noted, adding that he’s “not concerned because we created chances tonight and our team has always scored goals.”
Sure, just not so much lately. In last year’s Supporters Shield winning season the Red Bulls scored the second most goals in the East, with 62. Atlanta racked up 70 and three teams in the wild west outpaced the Red Bulls, although the well balanced New York side was number one in goal difference.
This season has been a different story, no surprise given the teams place in the standings. And while it is still relatively early the ninth-place Red Bulls have been outscored by seven of their Eastern Conference foes and all but one Western team, Vancouver. Even the winless Colorado Rapids have outscored the Red Bulls, scoring 12 times this season while the Bulls have rung the bell just nine times.
Saturday night’s three points are big but only if they serve to jumpstart a Red Bulls revival and with attendance already hurting some wins, and maybe some goals could only help.
Thank you @NewYorkRedBulls! Great win! – Cant believe more people dont fill this World Class stadium every week to watch a team that is always giving everything!👍 I grew up just blocks from @RedBullArena and would have done anything to attend a game at such an amazing facility. pic.twitter.com/vOngmqNU5F— Tab Ramos (@RamosTab) April 28, 2019